How Indian Royalty Inspired Cartier To Push The Opulence Of Its High Jewellery Pieces
Despite what most people think, the biggest fans of jewellery in history are not women but men. Specifically, the maharajahs from pre-independent India, whose insatiable appetites for extravagant jewellery are legendary and quite possibly unrivalled by the monarchs of any other country.
Rare and exotic gems were not solely for flaunting wealth, they also symbolised power, authority and status in society. That explains the magnificent ways the maharajahs wore and displayed them—in highly elaborate, substantial designs that quite literally dripped and draped over their turbans and chests as well as set into the hilts and scabbards of the swords and daggers they carried. More is not just more for these men when it comes to accessorising with jewellery. It is essential on ceremonial occasions when they are to be seen by large numbers of people in public.
With India being the world’s biggest source of diamonds—those of the finest quality, no less—back in the day, these men had the ultimate top-grade gems at their fingertips. But that’s not all. Their sapphires came from Kashmir, while emeralds arrived in the ports of Goa from Colombia. But while the maharajahs of older dynasties had their jewellery made by Indian artisans, many of those who reigned in the early 20th century—and were often educated overseas and better travelled—sought the skills of European jewellers.
The house of Cartier, in particular, had very close and productive links with India, counting multiple prominent royal names including the families of Patiala, Nawanagar, Kapurthala and Baroda among its clients. Jacques Cartier, one of three brothers who brought the business their father started to global fame, visited the country in 1911, ostensibly to procure gems and meet potential clients. He discovered, with surprise, that the royal men were interested in jewels not for their women but for themselves and went on to establish both business and friendly relationships with many of them since.
Thus began the cross-cultural exchange in the form of precious gems and gold: Cartier incorporated Parisian touches when resetting the maharajahs’ gems into new jewellery designs, while the company itself took inspiration from the Indian style for its own line of creations made for its western customers.
From Then to Now
Today, we see Cartier’s close and unique connection with India’s past encapsulated within the maison’s latest creation—the Maharajah necklace. Designed in the bib style typically seen on the huge ceremonial necklaces that maharajahs wore, this vision in green, blue and red is composed of tiers of emeralds, sapphires and rubies, interspersed with accents of diamonds.
At the centre is a clustered drop pendant, made up of 19 engraved emeralds. It is framed by an 18.58-carat hexagonal Zambian emerald on the top and three Colombian emeralds on both sides and the bottom, totalling 130.69 carats. Holding the extravagant design all together is an intricate and delicate setting studded with rubies, sapphires, diamonds and even more emeralds.
Those who are familiar with Cartier’s repertoire will immediately recognise this multicoloured combination of gems as its iconic Tutti Frutti style, a Cartier signature that fuses both Indian and western jewellery design sensibilities and influences. The vibrant green, blue and red gem palette, as well as the engraved motifs of flora and foliage, is a nod to the former, while the setting, polishing and finishing techniques remain distinctively Cartier.
The necklace is also transformable, which is a property that is not new in high jewellery but is taken to greater heights in this versatile piece. It can be worn in no less than eight ways—in its full glory as well as various subtler permutations that are appropriate for occasions when maximum opulence is not quite necessary.
An actual maharajah’s necklace this modern-day bejeweled masterpiece may not be, but it is as close as it gets for collectors of rare pieces of high jewellery.
Front and Centre
Necklaces were often the most extravagant and visible pieces in a maharajah’s jewellery vault. Here are three of the most famous—and only one still exists in its original state.
The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace
Gifted to Queen Elizabeth II by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1947, this stunner of a diamond necklace was a special wedding gift. He was one of the richest men in the world at the time, which explains the generous gesture. The necklace was most recently seen on the Duchess of Cambridge when she wore it to the Queen’s 2019 Diplomatic Corps Reception.
The Patiala Necklace
This legendary necklace is the single largest commission ever given to Cartier by the Maharajah of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, in the late 1920s. The massive five-tiered piece was set with over 2,930 diamonds totalling almost 1,000 carats, and held the famous 234-carat De Beers yellow diamond as its centrepiece. Apparently, the necklace had mysteriously disappeared from the Patiala treasury in 1948—rumour has it that the stones were taken out and sold separately when the family fell on hard times.
The Nawanagar Necklace
If you’ve watched the movie Ocean’s 8, you won’t miss this necklace as the entire film is based on it. The necklace worn by actress Anne Hathaway is actually inspired by a real piece produced for the Maharajah of Nawanagar in 1931. The original necklace held the 136.25-carat blue-white Queen of Holland Diamond, a 12-carat olive-green diamond and several large-sized pink diamonds, interspersed among those white sparklers.
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