Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence consists of almost 400 jewels, gems and objects spanning more than 500 years. It includes ornaments, ceremonial objects and decorative art used by kings and elites during the age of the maharajas. The historical sweep of the collection includes an important period at the turn of the 20th century, which saw an extraordinary creative fusion between India and the West.
These years witnessed a growing interest in and curiosity about Indian culture right across Europe, and a succession of maharajas bringing India’s finest gems and pearls to the continent’s most renowned jewellery houses to be redesigned.
Jacques Cartier made his first visit to India in 1911, at a time when the coronation of George V and Queen Mary was being celebrated at the Delhi Durbar. Cartier used his trip to cultivate contacts with maharajas across the subcontinent, from Kapurthala to Mysore.
The maharajas were fascinated by the Parisian styles Cartier showed them, and many would entrust their jewels to the Parisian house. Between 1925 and 1928, for example, the Maharaja of Patiala commissioned Cartier to re-set his Crown Jewels — one of the largest single commissions in the firm’s history.
The close bond between Cartier and India was most apparent during the Art Deco period, and resulted in two types of jewels: the Indian gems redesigned in the Cartier Western style for the maharajas, and the ‘India-inspired’ jewels presented to Cartier’s Western clientele.
The Patiala ruby choker, created by Cartier in 1931, is one such example of the delightful jewels created by the French house during a period when the maharajas flocked to Paris to reset gems from their treasuries.
Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala (1891-1938), ruled the princely state of Patiala from 1900 to 1938. Best known for his extravagant lifestyle, the Maharaja had an insatiable appetite for travel and luxury. Legend has it that when journeying in Europe he had a motorcade of more than 20 Rolls-Royces to transport him, his wives and countless aides, servants and staff.
Singh was born into a family accustomed to excess, but was only nine years of age when his father, Rajendra Singh, died in 1900. He inherited some of the most incredible jewels of the time, including the De Beers yellow diamond of approximately 234.50 carats, which he later had mounted by Cartier, and a grand, Western-style diamond-set tiara.
A key patron of English and French luxury firms during the early 20th century, the Maharaja of Patiala was a frequent visitor to Asprey, Boucheron, Cartier, Garrard and other great houses, sending huge quantities of jewels and stones for these firms to work with.
In the mid-1920s, the Maharaja supplied Cartier with a great many gemstones from his treasury to be reset and redesigned. Preferring platinum over gold, he commissioned bespoke jewels for himself as well as his many wives and concubines.
One of the most impressive jewels to issue from the collaboration between Cartier and the Maharaja of Patiala was an incredible ruby, natural pearl and diamond multi-layer necklace. The Patiala choker (shown above) is a surviving portion of this superb masterpiece.
As with many jewels from the 1920s and 1930s, the necklace was eventually reset and restyled to adapt to evolving trends. In 2012, the necklace was restored and restrung to its original design by Cartier Tradition.
Considered by the firm to be one of the most important necklaces ever made, the Patiala choker represents one of the most important relationships of the early 20th century in the world of jewellery.
The magnificent emerald, sapphire and diamond belt buckle shown above was created by Cartier for its booth at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925. Its design, gemstones and colours exemplify Cartier’s ability to blend Indian themes with Western Art Deco style.
Designed to complement the chic low-waisted dresses that were in vogue at the time, the belt was created specifically for Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley.
The daughter of Sir Edward Sassoon and Baroness Aline de Rothschild chose to wear the belt buckle alongside her most important jewels for both the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. On both occasions, the Marchioness also wore the sapphire and diamond tiara and necklace that were originally part of the French Crown jewels.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Europe’s fascination with the Far East and the Orient was at its height. The ‘Indian style’ was popularised through the turrah, which was the inspiration for shoulder tassel brooches, and the sarpech, or turban ornament, with paisley motif. Echoes of Indian Style miniature borders and Persian friezes could be found in some diamond bracelets, while enamelled plaques — imported from Jaipur to cover cigarette cases — and carved gemstones became all the rage.
Fibula brooches, which originated in the Roman period, were in vogue in India, where they were used to secure turbans. They were also a staple of Art Deco creations in Europe, as exemplified by the Art Deco diamond Clicquet brooch by Cartier from circa 1925, which features a heart-shaped modified brilliant-cut diamond of 7.56 carats, and marquise and old-cut diamonds.
The Art Deco lapel watch by Cartier from circa 1925 features circular cabochon carved emeralds and carved and polished emerald beads. The dial, which is signed Cartier, France, is detachable in three places and may be worn as a shorter pendant or as a clip brooch.
Created with geometric-shaped coral plaques, rose-cut diamonds, and variously-shaped natural pearls and platinum, the Art Deco Jabot or Clicquet brooch was made by Cartier in 1922.
The ‘Indian-style brooch’ from 1924 boasts an oval cabochon emerald, pear-shaped carved, buff-top and circular cabochon emeralds, pear-shaped table-cut and circular-cut diamonds, and circular cabochon rubies. The detachable seed pearl, onyx bead, enamel, diamond, emerald and ruby tassel was added later, having been recreated from original records by Cartier workshops.
Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda (1917-1989) had a passion for natural pearls, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. After her wedding to the Maharaja Pratapsingh Gaekwar of Baroda, she received jewels from the Baroda treasury to add to her collection. These gemstones and jewels dated back to the Mughal era.
The Maharani led a lavish lifestyle, even after her husband was deposed by the Indian Government in 1951. She and her beloved son, Sayajirao Gaekwad, nicknamed ‘Princie’, continued to attend high-society events together for many years.
During the 1950s she spent much time in Paris staying at the Ritz Hôtel, and was regularly seen trailed by aides carrying bags of gems to be remounted to fit the latest Western trends by the city’s most famous jewellery houses.
The natural pearl and diamond necklace shown above reputedly belonged to Rajmata Gayatri Devi, wife of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur. Considered to be among the most glamorous women in the world, she was a frequent traveller between India and Europe.
Usually seen in a colourful chiffon sari and a string of pearls, the Rajmata was politically active, and a passionate advocate for women’s rights. In the wake of India’s independence from Britain she was elected to the Lower House of India’s Parliament in 1962.
This devant-de-corsage brooch is an extraordinary example of the magnificence of the Belle Époque. It was made to order by Cartier in 1912 for Solomon Barnato Joel, who made his fortune in the South African diamond mines. Joel supplied Cartier with his four best diamonds for this piece, which is a wonderful example of the subtle and delicate serti muguet (lily-of-the-valley setting) used by Cartier at the time, and mastered by its famous workshop, Atelier Henri Picq.
These objects are offered from the Al Thani Collection. Sale proceeds will support ongoing initiatives of the Al Thani Collection Foundation which extend from exhibitions, publications and lectures to sponsorships of projects at museums around the world. In 2020, further works of art from this encyclopaedic collection will be shown at a new museum space in Paris.