The Maharajahs’ Jewels: An Ancestral Wonder
"Maharaja" comes from the word raja/ rajah which means king. The title of Maharaja was once given to certain Indian kings and emperors.
India has always been a continent rich in precious stones, all more exceptional than the others. Indeed, India was even the first producer of diamonds in the world from Antiquity until the 18th century.
Among the many stones of the Maharajahs, the Golconde diamonds are certainly the most famous of them. This deposit located in India near the city of Hyderabad (current state of Telangana), was exploited from the 8th century BC until the 17th century AD. Some of the most famous and beautiful diamonds in the world come from Golconde. This is the case for example of the Hope Diamond, the Koh-I-Noor in the Tower of London and the Regent in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Golconde was thus considered as the epicenter of the diamond trade. It is in the begin of the 20th century, that the citadel of the diamond will stop its influence… the mines being exhausted.
Between opulence and excess
To understand the India of the Maharajas, we have to go back to the 16th century, in April 1526 to be exact, and the birth of a new Indian empire, the Mughals’ one.
From their castles, or garh, which criss-cross Rajasthan, these princes of local kingdoms, with their own governments, laws, festivals and even languages, reigned over the lower castes of peasants and merchants.
However, it is in the 19th and during the first half of the 20th century that the Maharajas’ taste for high jewelry will assert itself. Made even richer by England, it is under the British Raj that they will order their most beautiful jewels. Gradually losing interest in the management of their small kingdoms, they favored their own pleasure and became idles: sumptuous parties, tiger hunts and polo games punctuated their days.
The wonders of jewelry have always been symbols of power, strength and wealth for the ancient rulers. Opulence and refinement are the key words of these centuries of creation in architecture, sculpture, and jewelry creations.
Some craftsmen and goldsmiths have developed many technical feats in this field, including the kundan, which consists of framing the gem with pure gold.
Europeans have always been impressed by the grandeur of oriental collections, with Burmese “pigeon’s blood” rubies, Badakhchan spinels, Golconde type IIA diamonds, Colombian emeralds, Kashmir sapphires and Arabian fine pearls.
The most important collection of jewels is certainly that of the Al Thani family: the princely sovereign family of Qatar. In this collection, there are countless precious stones of all kinds, including the most famous diamonds such as the Star of Golconda of 57.31 carats or the Eye of the Idol, a pale blue diamond of over 70 carats.
In the 17th century , the Emperor Jahangir, the 4th Mughal emperor of India, was also a great collector as he alone owned more than 5 million carats of rough diamonds. A Flemish stone dealer even claimed that he had more jewelry than all the European monarchs combined.
Among the Maharajahs, everyday objects are a beautiful proof of Indian opulence. For example, the 184.5 carat Jacob diamond was used as a paperweight. They also had jade backscratches and even ribboned agate fly swatters.
The Place Vendôme and the Maharajahs
From the end of the 19th and the end of the 20th century, to realize their huge projects, the Maharajahs turned to the great Parisian jewelry houses rather than local designers.
In 1905, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala walked through the door of the Parisian jeweler Mellerio dits Meller. It was then that he acquired an incredible jewelry creation: an articulated peacock in enamel entirely set with rose-cut diamonds.
The Maharajahs were fond of high jewelry in all its variations: as an aigrette, as a corsage ornament, on turbans, in rings…
Contrary to Europe, the most beautiful jewels in India were worn by men. They adorned themselves with precious stones to show their power.
The jewelry houses of the Place Vendôme seeing the enormous interest of the Maharajahs for their savoir-faire, began to imagine opulent collections without any limit in order to fill the desires of this so fantastic clientele.
In 1927, the Maharaja of Kapurthala commissioned an exceptional turban crown with his own emerald collection from the legendary house of Cartier. It is thanks to this very special creation that many Maharajahs decided to entrust their jewels to the houses of the Place Vendôme.
The following year, the Maharaja of Patiala set down his luggage in Paris with his 6 chests filled with stones. Thus was born one of the most exceptional necklaces in the history of jewelry: the Cartier Patiala necklace. This necklace, all in platinum, is composed of a cascade of 2930 diamonds, including an incredible cushion-cut De Beers pale yellow diamond of more than 230 carats and Burmese rubies. This is the largest order Cartier has ever received.
As for Van Cleef & Arpels, it counted among its best clients many Nepalese and Indian sovereigns.
Thus, the Place Vendôme became the place to be for the emperors of India, who came with ever more exceptional projects and stones.
The stamp of the Maharajahs still today
Even today, the Maharajahs are honored through exclusive auctions or high jewelry collections.
In June 2019, Christie’s held a sale dedicated to the Maharajahs: Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence. This sale, of more than 400 lots, gathered an incredible collection of jewels and precious objects having belonged to the greatest Indian dynasties, witness of 500 years of history.
Among the highlights of the sale are:
- A jade dagger that belonged to the sponsor of the Taj Mahal: Shah Jahan
- A river of diamonds from Golconde for a total of 200 carats
- A platinum brooch set with diamonds and a cushion cut sapphire of 109.50 carats
The modern “New Maharajahs” collection by Boucheron
In 2022, Claire Choisne, Boucheron’s creative director, pays homage to the Maharajas and particularly to the famous Maharaja of Patiala through a brand new haute-jouaillerie collection: New Maharajahs. This absolutely extraordinary collection takes up the symbols of ancestral India like the lotus flower, the ornaments of the turbans… The traditional techniques of the time are also honored like the glyptic, which consists in making engrave the stones.
For this collection, Claire Choisne searched the Boucheron archives and was inspired by 149 drawings of the time.
The collection is punctuated by transparency, white and the play of scale that softens the opulent and gargantuan side.
The only colored set in the collection is the one that tells the story of the Maharaja of Patiala’s commission.
This one is composed of 9 emeralds of Colombia for a total of 40 carats. This set is transformable since the central motif detaches to form a sublime brooch.
Without the central motif, we obtain a completely articulated collar set with a rail of baguette emeralds. Unlike the original 1928 model, Boucheron has chosen lightness by replacing the green gems at the ends with rock crystal covered diamonds to be even more shinny.
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