It isn’t a very old fable, that the Indian subcontinent was known to be the treasure chest or in Urdu Toshakhana of the world. The mineral rich territory produced the finest and rarest gemstones that charmed jewelry connoisseurs, designers and craftsmen. From Kashimiri sapphires to Burmese Ruby to the finest Golconda diamonds; Indian royalties have experienced it all.
jewelry has long been an integral part of India’s traditional and aesthetic identity, especially among the rulers of the land.In another age—and not so long ago—Indian men were never seen without their jewelry. Apart from its talismanic role, jewelry was also a proclamation of power, prosperity and prestige, inextricably linked with masculinity and virility. Precious stones had symbolic and religious meanings and the more opulent and ostentatious the jewelry, the more powerful the man who wore it.
Below, we take a look at five stunning jewelry pieces and two empires without which the magnanimous history of Indian subcontinent is impossible.
The Mughals invaded India in the 16th century and later conquered major parts of the country. They brought with them extraordinarily talented and skilled craftsmen that redefined jewelry and the art of wearing ornaments. Mughals had an incredible taste in jewels and were for sure extravagant which is why it's really difficult to choose a single piece from a priceless collection of the rarest gems and jewels. In those times jewelry was a symbol of power and wealth. The bigger the treasury the bigger the ruler! As simple as that. Not just the Queens but the rulers and even their children used to be adorned with the most beautiful jewels from head to toe. Quite literally. Members of the royal family showcased their status by wearing heavy gold jewelry such as a bejewelled turban, toe rings, necklaces etc. studded with the rarest of rare minerals.
We believe that what really set Mughal jewelry apart was the intricacy in their designs and carvings. They were all pieces of excellent craftsmanship from the very famous Mughal carvings to floral motifs, each piece was an example of fine taste and luxury.Many Mughal emperors married Rajput princesses, Akbar and Jodha for instance. What such alliances brought together was a mix of culture, acres of land and weapons and the Jewels. The exuberant form of Rajasthani jewelry, Jadau, also finds its roots in Mughal jewelry because of these alliances. It is undoubtedly a pure amalgamation of delicate designs of the Mughals with the fine detail of the Rajputs.
The well celebrated Kundan jewelry was brought to notice by the Mughals. The craft of setting the gemstones on gold at room temperature was a patent jewelry-making technique of the Mughals.
The art of enamelling or Meenakari also established its mark during the Mughal era. Meenakari is a tedious technique that produces a floral finish on both sides of the jewelry piece.
Just like the Mughals, it's a rather grinding task to choose one such piece from their treasury. Rulers of the city of Hyderabad and the Deccan region, the Nizams were one of the wealthiest dynasties the Subcontinent had seen. According to an article published in The Hindu, “The Nizam’s Dominion encompassed parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh besides the core area of present-day Telangana”
Which simply means nearly 10,000 square miles of land was classified as Sarf-e-Khas or crown lands and the revenue from these lands was for the personal use of the Nizam, his personal income. It is this extravagant source of revenue that led Time magazine to designate Mir Osman Ali Khan as the wealthiest man in the world (1937 cover), with a wealth estimated at nearly $2 billion.”
The Nizams possessed the most elaborate heirlooms that the Indian subcontinent ever housed, including gemstones, jewelry, art objects and paintings that dated back to the reign of Asaf Jah in the early 18th century. Unlike other rulers of that era their taste involved a lot of European craftsmanship which was quite unique. Infact, the Nizams also initiated a hybridisation of crafts, borrowing and refining the artistic accomplishments previously made by the Mughals. Their obsession with magnificence and uniqueness was most apparent in their jewelry collections where the most traditional pieces essentially turban ornaments as sarpatti, sarpech and kalgi) which were given a major transformation to suit the more European tastes of the Nizams.
Maharaja of Patiala’s diamond necklace
The most famous Maharaja of Patiala, a princely state in British India, was Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1891 - 1938). He is perhaps best known for his extravagance which becomes very evident with this breathtaking necklace that he possessed. Featuring an astonishing number of diamonds, 2,930, according to TOI, the Patiala Necklace, worn by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala was made by Cartier in 1928. At its heart lay the world's seventh largest diamond, a 234-carat yellow ‘De Beers'.
Diamond necklace of Maharani of Baroda
Maharaja Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad’s wife Maharani Sita Devi had placed an order for a European tongue scraper crafted out of gold. Yes. You read that right, a Gold tongue scraper. Such was their lifestyle. Maharani had a passion for natural pearls, emeralds, rubies and diamonds, as shown in her many commissions at Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
The gemstones and jewels from her personal collection included a fabulous seven-strand natural pearl necklace ( shall learn about this later) and a scintillating three-row diamond necklace that suspended the ‘Star of the South’ and the ‘English Dresden’ diamonds.
“ Star of the South '' diamond necklace is amongst the most eyeconic royal jewelry in the world. It was a whooping 128 carat diamond with a 78.5 carat English Dresden diamond in it. Mulhar Rao, the Gaekwar of Baroda, bought the Star of South for £80,000, or about 20 million INR. Later on, this piece of jewelry was bought by Rustomjee Jamsetjee of Mumbai and sold to Cartier in 2002.
Exuberant pearl necklace from Baroda
Gaekwad (also written as Gaikwad) descended from the Royal Kunbi clan, who were the rulers of Baroda, West India. They ruled the princely state of Baroda during the British regime from the mid 1800s all the way till 1947. The ruler was referred to as the Gaekwad or formerly as the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda.This 7-stranded extraordinarily beautiful necklace, made from natural pearls, was commissioned by Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwad of Baroda in 1860. These pearls haven't lost their lustre even 150 years after the necklace was created.
Maharani of Patiala’s ruby choker
In 1931, a layered ruby choker with diamonds and pearls was created by Cartier for the Maharani of Patiala, Maharani Vimla Kaur. The necklace was lustrated as the Patiala Ruby Choker. The centre point of the necklace features strands of rubies, supported by diamonds and pearls on the sides. According to Times Of India, the drop pendant in the last layer of the necklace was very heavy, thanks to the accompanying diamonds and pearls.
Diamond sarpech of Maharaja Duleep Singh
Maharaja Duleep Singh of Lahore, the last Maharaja of the Sikh empire is seen wearing a marvelous diamond sarpech. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had found the Sikh Empire and these were states in the present day Punjab. The illustrious Diamond sarpech is an accessory that is made for the turban, but when it had diamonds it was for the royal turbans. The three plumes are entirely made of diamonds with a dazzling emerald placed right in the centre. They had an exuberant taste in jewelry which is pretty evident from the picture.