Friday, 15 February 2013

Indian Maharaja Jewelry in Europe

The Mahjal diamond, a fancy yellow cushion-shaped diamond of 139.38 carats, fetched US$611,111 when it was auctioned by Christie's Geneva in 1983. It is believed to have once decorated the turban of the Maharaja of Kapurthala.

The Legacy of War


The First World War proved to be of unlikely assistance in cementing the relationship between the princes and European jewelers. Most of the princes poured money and men into Britain's war effort. They co-operated with the government of India in raising troops, in reassuring the recruits about fighting abroad, and in crushing any signs of nationalism or sedition at home. This unstinting proof of loyalty transformed them from lowly 'native chiefs' into respected allies of the British; when the war was over there was no question of the government of India reverting to the old Curzonian regime of nannying and chastising them like naughty schoolboys. Some old hands in the political department were slow to adapt, but generally the major gun-salute princes found that after the war they could travel and express their opinions far more freely than before. 

In India British officials began to treat the princes more like social equals, and their visits to the viceregal court were often relaxed and good-humored. An official forum for princely opinion, the Chamber of Princes, was set up and some of the princes were elevated to the world of international diplomacy: Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala and Ganga Singh of Bikaner were pre-sent at the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919; Jagatjit Singh, Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar, and Bhupindar Singh of Patiala variously represented India at the League of Nations. In the long run, disappointment awaited them, but while the false dawn lasted the globe-trotters among the princes reveled in their new-found freedom. The stories of five of them give a flavor of the times.

Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala


One of the princes most in evidence in the jewellery showrooms of Europe was Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala (1872-1949), a tall, elegant man of charming manners who seemed perfectly at ease in France and England. His state in the Punjab, to the north-west of Delhi, was tiny, only 630 square miles, with a population of not more than 300,000. Indeed the state was so small it was often said that Jagatjit Singh was Kapurthala. Certainly, it was he who put it on the world map, with headline-grabbing tours throughout Europe, the Americas, and Asia, and generous invitations to the cream of European society to visit him in India. In spite of rumors to the contrary, however, he was not fabulously rich. His state's annual income was only about £250-350,000, much of which in fact came from estates in Oudh that the British had be-stowed upon his grandfather in reward for his loyalty during the Mutiny of 1857.

Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur, Maharaja of Cooch Behar photographed by Lafayette in 1913 shortly after his accession. Members of the Cooch Behar as family were frequent visitors to Garrard in London and Chaumet in Paris. Jagatjit Singh had succeeded to the throne in 1877, at the age of five. Soon afterwards his formal education had been given over to British tutors, who, presumably by accident, transformed their young charge into an ardent Francophile and an insatiable tourist. Jagatjit made his first trip abroad in 1893 and from then on was rarely in India for a year at a time. He loved to shop. Within a day of arriving in Paris for the first time he had found his way to the Rue de la Paix, and in the year 1899-1900 he was said to have spent over a quarter of his state's revenues on travel and personal expenses.' Lord Curzon tried to bludgeon and wheedle him into staying at home, but the resourceful Jagatjit eventually got his own way. He placed all his legitimate children and their intended spouses in schools in England and France, thus necessitating regular visits to Europe to check on their welfare.

Paris was his favorite destination. He adored the city, and after the First World War he bought one of the few residences in the Bois de Boulogne the 'Pavilion Kapurthala' at No. 1 Route du Champ d'Entrainement, where he resided for several months each summer. (At his death in 1949, he left the house to the children of Paris, a bequest which has been fulfilled in the building's current use as the Centre d'Observation et d'Orientation psychopedagogique.) Well before this, however, he had provided himself with a French home in Kapurthala itself, transforming his tiny city into 'a scrap of Paris laid at the foot of the Himalayas'.' In about 1902 he commissioned two French architects, MM. Marcel and Boyer, to build a palace for him in the style of a French château. Completed in 1909 at a cost of Rs. 34, 00,000, the Jagatjit Palace boasted an ornate pink stucco frontage with details picked out in white, topped by copper-clad mansard roofs. 

Its grounds, laid out in homage to the formal gardens of Versailles, were dotted about with allegorical statues and fountains, while its interior abounded in marble and gilt in an exuberant interpretation of Louis XVI style.' As a finishing touch, he made French the language of his court, right down to the commands given to the humblest bearers. (He also kept his diaries in French.) As an Indian palace the Jagatjit Palace evoked mixed reactions from Europeans. Jacques Cartier, visiting in 1911, was astonished to be waited on by servants wearing perukes, while Lord Harding, who stayed there in 1913, damned it as 'a rather vulgarly furnished French Renaissance hotel'.' Yvonne Fitzroy, secretary to Lady Reading, was not much kinder when she saw it in 1923:

A piece truly unique of its kind,' wrote a delighted Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala when he collected the turban 3z-1-lament designed for him by Cartier Paris in 1926. The central hexagonal emerald weighed 177.40 carats. Of Jagatjit Singh's finery Fitzroy observed that: Kapurthala's jewels pale to insignificance beside those of many States, on the other hand they are admirably arranged and housed.' This was perceptive, for, lacking the huge disposable income of a Baroda or a Gwalior, Jagatjit had bought jewels with discrimination. Predictably, he favored the jewelers of Paris. He was a Boucheron customer from the outset, and over the years, in addition to the diamond aigrette that he commissioned in 1905, purchased tiepins, cufflinks, and watches from their stock. Timepieces became a passion with him; he was said to have owned over 250 clocks and watches and to have kept one servant solely engaged in winding them up. Many of these came from Cartier, among them a blue enamel watch which he bought from Jacques Cartier when he first visited India in 1911.

He did not confine his jewellery purchases to Europe. In 1916, the New York Times reported that a Royal Mail steamship carrying some of his jewels had been torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean. The lost jewels which have thus far eluded marine salvage specialists were said to be the result of a four-million dollar spending spree by him in New York.' The figure is absurdly inflated, reflecting the air of exoticism that accompanied Jagatjit to America rather than his true purchasing power, but presumably he had bought some items of jewellery while he was there. It is possible, of course, that the ill-fated steamer carried more than just his recent purchases in New York. 

Thrilled with his new Cartier creation, the tiara-like `Kapurthala headdress' of 1926, Jagatjit Singh immediately sat for his portrait in it by the Parisian society painter Marcel Baschet.It was common for the princes to travel with valuable items of jewellery, especially if expecting to attend official functions in Britain. If Jagatjit had taken his best jewels with him in 1916, this would help account for the 'insignificance' of his collection that Fitzroy noticed in 1923.

Ten years later Jagatjit Singh acquired a jewel which, both in stylishness and in the attention it garnered, went a long way to compensating him for the losses in the wreck. In 1926, in readiness for his forthcoming golden jubilee, he asked Cartier to create for him a celebratory turban ornament. Many of the stones he was to provide from his own treasury, including a spectacular hexagonal emerald of 177.40 carats, which he had previously worn by itself as a turban ornament. Cartier's designers experimented with several designs, including a full headdress which was reminiscent of the 'turban-crowns' of the kings and prime ministers of Nepal, but they settled on a simpler setting, a pagoda-like tiara in emeralds, diamonds, and pearls. 

This employed fifteen large and unusual emeralds from Jagatjit's collection; the big hexagonal one was placed at the centre, surmounted by a smaller hexagon, a half-moon, and an inverted pear-shape at the very top. The Maharaja was thrilled with the creation. The entry in his diary for 27 September 1926 reads: 'Lunch at the Ritz, where I was presented to the King of Yugoslavia. Afterwards to the painter Marcel Baschet`s in full regalia and the finished emerald tiara from Cartier. A piece truly unique of its kind.' 

One of Boucheron's many designs for Bhupindar Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, in 1928. This sarpech cleverly combines traditional Indian design and engraved emerald drops with a platinum setting and four large faceted diamonds. Cartier too must have been pleased with their work, for it earned them much publicity. A colour 'advertorial' on it, entitled 'For the brow of great prince', was placed in Spur magazine, proudly stating that Queen Marie of Romania had taken time out of a busy shopping schedule to view it at Cartier's Rue de la Paix showroom. Marcel Baschet's full-length portrait of Jagatjit wearing the tiara was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1928 and thereafter reproduced in L'Illustration. In India it shone first at Jagatjit's golden jubilee celebrations, while in Europe Jagatjit wore it at the silver jubilee celebrations of George V in 1935 and at the coronation of George VT in 1937. By 1939 the journalist and traveler Rosita Forbes was able to speak of the tiara as being 'among the legendary jewels of India'. This was proof, if any were needed, of how Indian and European taste and design had joined together to create a currency of uniquely high value.'

Tukoji Rao HI and Yashwant Rao, Maharajas of Indore


In the 1920s and 30s Jagatjit Singh shared the royal limelight in Paris with Tukoji Rao III Holkar (1890-1978), ex-Maharaja of Indore. Indore was a large and wealthy Maratha state in central India. It had produced some exceptionally strong-willed rulers, much given to bucking against British interference in their affairs. Tukoji Rao's own father, Shivaji Rao (1859-1908), had fallen foul of the British and been forced to abdicate in 1903. 

At only twelve years old, Tukoji Rao was saddened by his father's fate, and he looked warily on attempts by his minders and other princes to befriend him. Unfortunately, in official circles this was interpreted as haughtiness and furtiveness. In 1911 it was said that he had returned from a trip to England 'with an exaggerated idea of his own importance ... people who should have known better, treated him and the Maharani as royal personages, and even Dukes and Duchesses curtseyed to them!' It was feared that his head had been turned and that the political department might have an 'intellectual prig' on their hands.' So absorbed in this analysis were the officers concerned, that they failed initially to spot the signs of a more traditional princely 'vice', namely, a passion for precious stones and jewels. 

Between 1911 and his abdication in 1926, Maharaja Tukoji Rao Holkar, a noted connoisseur of gemstones and long-standing Chaumet customer, added almost half a million pounds' worth of jewellery to the Indore state treasury.The jawahar khana that Tukoji Rao had-inherited from his forefathers contained close to half a million pounds' worth of jewellery, but between 1911 and 1926 he almost doubled its contents." Among these untold riches, one early investment stands out: shortly before the First World War the French house of Chaumet sold him two beautiful pear-shaped Golconda diamonds, one of 46.95 carats and the other only fractionally smaller at 46.70 carats. The diamonds' history prior to this sale is unknown, but once in Tukoji Rao's possession they became known as the Indore Pears, a name they retain today, even though they have long since been separated from his family.

With the purchase of the Indore Pears, Tukoji Rao embarked on a long and fruitful partnership with the jewellery designers at Chaumet. He was an elegant, delicately-featured man of refined tastes, and was well informed about modern developments in Continental art and design. But he also believed in paying due respect to tradition and majesty, a concern which made his preference for Chaumet, former jewellers to the court of Napoleon I, entirely understandable. Chaumet had other royal clients from India, among them the rulers of Baroda, Cooch Behar, Kapurthala, and Kashmir, and, in common with other Parisian and London jewellers, they produced a range of turban ornaments, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and tunic buttons for them. 

One of their more unusual creations was a pave diamond and emerald tiger's head, mounted as an aigrette for Jitendra Bhup Bahadur, Maharaja of Gooch Behar, in 1920.2 Nevertheless, Chaumet`s grandest Indian creations were for Tukoji Rao Holkar and his family. Extant designs in their archives show jewelled versions of the peshwa, the boat-shaped turban that was worn by Maratha rulers; swags of pearls and diamonds designed to complement the drapery of a sari; bazubands and epaulettes; and magnificent necklaces and pendants designed to show off the star stones in a collection.

A platinum set necklace of baguette diamonds, supported by a heavy collar of faceted rubies, and finished with nine briolette diamond drops, created by Mauboussin for Yashwant Rao Holkar of Indore in 1937. In 1926, in a repetition of his father's history, Tukoji Rao was himself forced to abdicate. Jewels, and their disputed ownership, played a part in this affair. Sometime in the 1910s, Tukoji Rao fell in love with Mumtaz Begam, a professional courtesan whose great-grand-mother had been the lover of Ranjit Singh ruler of the Punjab. For a time Mumtaz and her prince were happy. Tukoji Rao showered her with jewels and even took her to Europe with him in 1921, but eventually she tired of his attentions, and in 1924 she left him for the protection of a wealthy Bombay merchant, Shaikh Abdul Qadir Bawla. No amount of pleading brought her back to Indore, whereupon Tukoji Rao called upon the British authorities to arrest her (or the theft of a king's ransom of state jewels. Her family countered by saying that her life was in danger, which indeed it was. On the evening of 12 January 1925, in the exclusive Bombay suburb of Malabar Hill, she and her new lover were ambushed in their car by about eight armed men. 

Bawla was fatally shot and Mumtaz was slashed about the face with a knife, apparently in an attempt to cut off her nose a traditional punishment for adultery. But for the intervention of four passing army officers, she would have been carried off by her attackers. This was only the beginning of the scandal. News of the 'Malabar Hill Murder', as it was dubbed by eager pressmen, sped around the world when it was revealed that the men arrested for the attack were all in the service of the Maharaja of Indore. 

Ultimately Tukoji Rao had no option but to quit. When three of his employees were sentenced to death for Bawla's murder, pressure mounted for an investigation into his own role in the affair, at which point he chose to abdicate rather than submit to being tried like an ordinary criminal. In March 1926 he placed his 17-year-old son, Yashwant Rao, on the throne and commended him to the care of the British. Before the month was out he had boarded the City of Paris and sailed for Europe.

A design for a peshwa turban for a western Indian ruler probably the Maharaja of Indore, by Chaumet of Paris, c. 1925. Studded with rubies emeralds sapphires and pearls, the turban features Chaumet's characteristic tulip-shaped motif.Soon after he left, however, the items he took with him to Europe became a matter of speculation. A fort-night before abdicating he had passed a law stating that any jewels he had purchased during his lifetime were his private property to do with what he chose. According to the state jewellery registers, this amounted to 1,350 individual items worth almost forty lakhs of rupees at that time, about £300,000. On learning of Tukoji Rao's intuitions, the viceroy's agent in central India had intervened, suggesting that a family jewel trust be set up to safeguard those treasures that had been bought with state funds. In the meantime, it was agreed that Tulcoji Rao could take five lakhs' (£37,000) worth of jewellery with him. Barely had these delicate negotiations been concluded, however, than the New York World reported that jewellers in London were salivating at the Prospect of the forthcoming sale of Tukoji Rao's gem collection. What precisely was in the collection, only 4 few people knew, but, according to the newspaper?

It was never established what Tukoji Rao spirited away from India. The newspaper alleged that not only had he taken a safe stuffed full of jewels on board his ship to Europe, but that he himself had boarded and disembarked from the City of Paris in a covered litter, enabling him to keep the most precious stones, tiaras, coronets and other ornaments' about his person at all times. In Indore itself a polite fiction existed that no more than the permit-ted five lakhs of jewels had left the country, and in 1927 Tukoji Rao and the viceroy's agent reached a gentleman's agreement whereby the agent promised not to press for an enquiry as long as Tukoji Rao gave up his claim to jewels bought with state funds, which he did.' Henceforth, Tukoji Rao turned his eyes towards European delights. 

The Indore Pear diamonds were sold to Tukoji Rao Holkar in the 1910s by Chaumet. They were set in turn by Chaumet. Mauboussin and after their sale by Yashwant Rao Holkar in 1946In Switzerland, where he owned a he fell in love with Nancy Miller, a 23-year-old American who was studying philosophy at Lucerne. As he had two maharanis still living, a civil marriage was out of the question. Instead, Nancy was accepted into Hinduism as a low-caste convert and renamed Sharmista Devi, after which, in a blaze of publicity, Tukoji Rao married her according to Hindu rites in Indore on 17 March 1928. After the wedding, they moved to a château at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, where they held court as a glamorous society couple.

Whatever jewels Tukoji Rao might have taken from India; he left the Indore Pears to the care of his son, Yashwant Rao (1908-61), with whom he remained on good terms. Yashwant Rao had inherited both his father's love of jewels and his affection for the Continent, and in the late 1920s the designers at Chaumet were called upon to provide numerous designs for setting the Indore Pears. Soon after attaining full ruling powers in 1930, however, Yashwant Rao invited Jean Goulet, of the Parisian jewellery house of Mauboussin, to visit Indore to catalogue and appraise his jewel collection. 

Both young men fresh out of college (Yashwant Rao had been educated at Christ Church, Oxford), the two became firm friends in their two months together in Indore, and in 1933 Yashwant Rao appointed Mauboussin his official jewellers. Gradually, piece by piece, Mauboussin was given the job of resetting many of Yashwant Rao's jewels. In 1936 the firm created an emerald and diamond sarpech for a peshwa turban, with a matching turra of cascading briolette drops.

Yashwant Rao Holkar, Maharaja of Indore and his first wife, Sanyogita. Her husband's equal in her appreciation of Continental art, Sanyogita died at a tragically early age in 1937.
 A spectacular ruby and diamond necklace followed in 1937, in which year Mauboussin were also given the job of setting the Indore Pears. The necklace they created for them, with its geometrical forms and heavy use of baguette diamonds, captured something of the spirit of the Thirties. For a time it briefly featured another famous diamond, the Porter Rhodes, a flawless, pure white 56.40-carat South African stone which Yashwant Rao had bought through Mauboussin in 1937.1' Both Chaumet's and Mauboussin's settings of the Indore Pears appear to have been commemorated in two sets of paired portraits of Yashwant Rao and his first wife, Sanyogita of Kolhapur, which were painted by the French artist Bernard Boutet de Monvel in the mid-1930s. 

One pair of portraits shows the royal couple in traditional Indian clothing; here it is Yashwant Rao who wears the Indore Pears as a necklace, presumably given the portrait's date of 1934 in a setting provided by Chaumet. The second pair shows the couple in Western evening dress, and this time the diamonds, set in the Mauboussin necklace, grace the elegant neck of Sanyogita. She can only have worn the necklace briefly, for she died at a tragically young age in 1937. Perhaps the portraits were commissioned to mark another stage in Yashwant Rao's artistic engagement with the Continent, for in about 1934 the young German Modernist architect Eckart Muthesius finished building a new palace for him at Indore, the Manik Bagh, or Ruby Garden palace. No longer in the family's hands today, it remains one the purest examples of the Art Deco style anywhere in the world, and was originally furnished with pieces from a host of Continental architects and designers, among them the Luckhardt brothers, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Rene Herbst.'

A painted lead model for a turban ornament, featuring the Indore Pear diamonds, designed for Yashwant Rao Holkar of Indore by Mauboussin, c. 1935.
In the 1940s Yashwant Rao's attention turned to the United States. He became good friends with the New York gem dealer, Harry Winston, and in 1946 sold him both the Indore Pears and the Porter Rhodes. By then, in the wake of the Second World War and nationalist agitation in India, neither the Continent nor the lifestyle of an Indian prince was what it had been. It was time for the diamonds to move on.

Ranjitsinhji, Maharaja Jamsahib of Nawanagar


Not all of India's roving princes made France their home away from home. Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji (1872-1933), Maharaja Jamsahib of Nawanagar, preferred to retreat to England or Ireland each summer. Political intrigue had dogged his youth, and it was only after a prolonged struggle that he had succeeded to the gadi in 1907. Well before then, however, he had acquired a reputation as a quintessential English gentleman, adored throughout the British Empire as `Ranji', a cricketer of legendary prowess and grace. Between 1895 and 1912 he scored 72 centuries in first-class cricket, mostly for the county team of Sussex and for England.

A design, reminiscent of the texture of heavy embroidery, for a maharaja's collar in diamonds, pearls and emeralds, by Chaumet c. 1925 Ranjitsinhji's state, Nawanagar, was a small Rajput principality on the Kathiawar peninsula in western India, which earned most of its wealth from a modest pearl fishery. Its ruler took seriously the Rajput traditions of hospitality, a fact which, when coupled with his generous manner, led him rather too easily into debt, especially in his youth. But he was a lateral thinker and not averse to taking a gamble, characteristics which helped him out of many difficulties. Something of his personal style is revealed in his handling of a small political problem which arose in 1924, soon after he had acquired Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, Ireland. Preparing to host the first dinner for his tenants, he was warned that they would balk at raising their glasses to the King of England. He neatly side stepped the problem by proposing instead the health of the 'Emperor of India', a toast in which his guests innocently and cheerfully joined. 

At his Irish and English properties, Ranjitsinhji fished, farmed, and hunted every bit like a local lord, but beneath his squire-like appearance, he nurtured a most un-English passion for gemstones. He was proud of his eight perfectly matched black pearls which had been collected over the years from Nawanagar's own fishery, and he treasured a diamond necklace made entirely of diamonds mined in Patna and cut in India. Another of his favorites’ was a necklace of emerald beads strung on gold wire which had been in the state treasury for generations. But his 'jewellery patriotism' did not stop with the items he inherited. 

Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar visited England frequently to indulge his twin passions for cricket and jewels. In this 1912 photograph by Vandyk of London he wears traditional jewels from his well-stocked state treasury.According to Jacques Cartier, who was a personal friend, after the long and uncertain wait to ascend the Nawanagar gadi, 'he began to cherish the idea of replenishing the State Collection of jewels in the Javerhkana, and making it second to none in India'.19 In pursuing this ambition, he became an internationally respected connoisseur of gems. Abraham Monnickendam noted the delight that he took in an outstanding stone, when, in the summer of 1930, he was called to Ranjitsinhji’s estate at Staines, near London, to appraise a diamond that had been offered to him for sale:

The reference to the Russian crown jewels made Monnickendam think that it might have been the famous Orlov diamond, but it has since been identified as the Queen of Holland, a flawless white diamond of 136.62 carats, which had been cut in Amsterdam early in the century and subsequently exhibited at the 1925 Paris exhibition. Jacques Cartier believed that the stone was a South African one, but its intense bluish tint has led some specialists to argue that it had come from India's old Golconda mines. Whatever its origins, it was a beautiful stone and it was going cheap: Ranjitsinhji paid only £100,000 for a stone Monnickendam tentatively valued at £250,000.

It fell to the London branch of Cartier to mount this diamond, re-christened the Ranjitsinhji, and most of the other large stones acquired by its owner. Ranjitsinhji had had dealings with them since at least 1911, when he bought a platinum watch from Jacques Cartier on his first visit to India, but the relationship intensified in the mid-1920s. Emeralds were his favorite stone, and in terms of quality Jacques Cartier considered his collection to be unrivalled. In 1926 Cartier set seventeen rectangular emeralds, including a 69.15-carat stone and five others that had come from the collection of Abdul Hamid II, the last sultan of the Ottoman empire, in a platinum and diamond necklace.2' It was an Art Deco piece, but in common with many of Cartier's other pieces for Nawanagar, there was something functional, almost unimaginative, about its design. It was a necklace for someone who loved stones rather than for someone who revelled in the total artistry of a jewel.

A working drawing for the spectacular biblike diamond necklace created, by Cartier Paris for Bhupindar Singh of Patiala in 1928. The pendant features the pale yellow De Beers diamond, which, at 234.5 carats, remains one of the largest polished diamonds in the world. Cartier also mounted a collar of thirteen emeralds for him in diamonds ('almost a collection in itself', according to Jacques Cartier), and two emerald turban ornaments, one with a 56-carat stone and the other with a 39-carat stone. There was a necklace of six ropes of pearls, embellished with a pendant featuring an engraved emerald of 62.93 carats; the pendant doubled as yet another turban ornament. A ruby walking cane was ordered sometime in the mid-1920s, and, like other princes, Ranjitsinhji commissioned new platinum settings for some of his existing jewels. Among these was a European-style diamond sarpech, which, after remodeling, could be attached to his turban with long diamond 'strings', from the end of each of which hung a large cabochon emerald, 'marvelous in colour and purity and each one inch and a quarter long'. 

Another diamond sarpech or aigrette that they reset in platinum for him featured a pink diamond of 24.81 carats. Ranjitsinhji already owned this stone but to complete the new setting he had to purchase over a hundred other smaller brilliant and baton diamonds. The cost of these, plus the platinum mounting, came to £2,187. That this was a relatively small job in the scale of his business with Cartier is suggested by the fact that it was paid for in a lump-sum payment of 120,000 that he made the following year."

Of all Cartier's creations for Ranjitsinhji, it was a diamond necklace of which Jacques Cartier was most proud a really superb realization of a connoisseur's dream'. He himself had a hand in assembling it, a process of several years' duration in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as and when Ranjitsinhji acquired a new diamond thought worthy of inclusion in it. In the 1931 version described by Jacques Cartier, the necklace consisted of two strands of first-class white diamonds, which were linked on both sides by a pair of square pink diamonds, together weighing 27.80 carats. Centered between these pink links, hung a pendant of six of the finest and rarest fancy diamonds in the world, beginning with a 9.50-carat deep-toned pink diamond, of 22.97 carats. Jacques Cartier called this stone 'the finest pink diamond existing', adding that it had once graced an 'Imperial and world-famous jewel'. Perhaps it was another refugee from Russia or Turkey? 

Yadavindra Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, photographed in 1941 wearing a vast array of state jewels, including Empress Eugenie's diamond necklace purchased by his great-grandfather, Mahendra Singh; a diamond 'tiara' created for his grand-father, Rajendra Singh; and the fabulous De Beers diamond necklace made by Cartier for his father, Bhupindar Singh.
Below this were the necklace's centerpiece, the huge Ranjitsinhji or Queen of Holland diamond, and then a rare, olive-green brilliant of 12.86 carats. Originally an oval stone of 17.5 carats, which was said to have belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad, Cartier had bought it for Ranjitsinhji from an Egyptian dealer in 1931. This was followed, finally, by a light pink diamond of 15.62 carats. As Cartier himself observed, the creation of this extraordinary necklace, Faye startling than beautiful, was only made possible by the wars and political vicissitudes of the previous two decades which had tossed so many magnificent jewel collections on to the international market: 'at no other period in history could such a necklace have come into existence'.

Ranji had little time to enjoy his unique piece of human history. He died on 2 April 1933, apparently hastened to a premature end by what he saw as Britain's imminent betrayal of the princes. Fearful of his state being swallowed up in an all-India federation, he had died, the newspapers said, `of a broken heart'. How long did his spectacular necklace survive intact? We do not know, but certainly by 1960 it was bro-ken up, for in that year the Queen of Holland diamond returned to Cartier's London showroom in search of a new owner.

Bhupindar Singh, Maharaja of Patiala


A diamond necklace created for Bhupindar Singh of Patiala in 1928 by Cartier Paris combines a modern platinum setting with Indian rose- and table-cut diamonds and the silken tie-cords traditional to Indian jewellery,. Bigger, bolder, and brighter than all of the other princes was Bhupindar Singh (1891-1938), Maharaja of Patiala, the largest state in the Punjab. Even to journalists used to deploying superlatives, Bhupindar Singh defied description. Nothing seemed quite to capture his excesses or, if it did, to marry them convincingly with his undoubted intelligence and wit. He attacked everything with a gargantuan appetite: food, women, travel, sport, politics, and, above all, jewels. Other maharajas were richer, more prestigious, and more powerful, but by 1930 a princely showing in London or Paris did not seem complete without Patiala's fantastically decorated presence. He had become both the exemplar of what the West expected of an Indian prince and a caricature of it.

Bhupindar Singh was heir to a family tradition of exuberance and extravagance. The state museum at Patiala was crammed with things bought by his grandfather, Mahendra Singh (1852-76). Trashy European trinkets and toys vied for space with items of luxury, such as two immaculately crafted dressing bags, one of which, with fittings in silver, was said to have cost £10,000." Bhupindar Singh's father, Rajendra Singh (1872-1900), was even more lavish in his spending. 

In the 1890s he bought the De Beers diamond, a huge light-yellow diamond from South Africa, which had been one of the star attractions at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. Its weight today is calculated at 234.5 metric carats, making it one of the largest polished diamonds in the world." He also scored some dubious firsts. He was the first prince to take a European wife Florry Bryan, sister of his stable manager; and he was the first to import a motor car to India a French Deboin.

One of Boucheron's many designs for Bhupindar Singh of Patiala in 1928, this traditional-style necklace was intended to make the most of the maharaja's almost fathomless collection of emeralds.
Bouton, with the number plate Patiala 0. In both cases he foreshadowed a trend. Soon princely India was awash with customized Rolls Royce’s, Bentleys, and Lanchesters. European wives were scarcer, but they gave more trouble; over the next forty years the political department would turn itself inside out establishing a protocol for dealing with these 'anomalous' consorts. It is not untruthful to say that when Rajendra Singh died in 1900, 'a prey to English jockeys and pimps', the government of India sighed with relief.

His son, Bhupindar Singh, succeeded to the Patiala gadi as an extremely spoilt nine-year-old orphan. Until 1910 a council of regency ran the state, but even under its guidance he revealed an outstanding ability for getting into scrapes, especially sexual ones. Rumors that he abused his power were to dog Bhupindar Singh throughout his reign, but separating the truth of such allegations from the opportunistic scandal-mongering to which most of the princes were subject was difficult. It helped that he was loyal, for the British were disposed to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bhupindar Singh inherited some spectacular jewels and stones from his father and grandfather. Besides the De Beers diamond, there was Eugenie's diamond necklace, bought by Mahendra Singh, and a European-style diamond tiara, probably commissioned by Rajendra Singh. These latter two items remained intact throughout his reign, but otherwise Bhupindar Singh commissioned numerous resetting of the jewels in his treasury. He was an early convert to platinum, and in 1911, on his first trip to Europe; the Paris branch of Cartier created a platinum forehead ornament for his senior maharani, Bakhtavar Kaur. 

A crystal sofa in the Shecsh Mahal ('Palace of Mirrors') part of the Mon Bagh Palace of PatialaModeled on a traditional chand mang-tika, the pearl-fringed ornament featured four concentric crescent moons set with diamonds nestling around a portrait miniature of the maharaja. But Cartier was not the sole recipients of his patronage, either on this trip or later ones. In London he shopped at Garrard, the Goldsmiths' and Silversmiths' Company, Asprey, Alfred Dunhill, and the auctioneers Spink & Sons, and many of the orders placed with these firms involved other suppliers and workshops. This was probably the case with the silver dinner service which he commissioned from the Goldsmiths' and Silversmiths' Company for entertaining Edward, Prince of Wales, on his ill-starred visit to India in 1921-2. 

It was definitely so with the five travelling trunks that he ordered from Asprey in 1930. These remarkable velvet-lined creations in teak, each fitted with solid silver wash basins, hand-basins, soap-boxes, tooth-brush holders, and chamber pots, were made for Asprey by the esteemed 'London furniture makers, G. Betjeman 11 and Sons. The proprietor's son, John Betjeman, had no intention of going into the furniture business, but the image of Patiala's trunks remained with him throughout his life in poetry. In Summoned by Bells (1960), he wrote of his father's factory in Pentonville Road:

Jey Singh Kachwaha, Maharaja of Alwar, who shopped in the Rue de Rivoli for his clothes, was also fiercely traditional. Here, in 1929, he re-enacts the Mughal ceremony of determining his weight in coins for distribution to the poor.Bhupindar Singh also bought heavily from jewellers in India, especially Cooke & Kelvey, Hamilton & Co., and lmrie & Lawrence. Visiting Paris in 1928 he added Boucheron to his list of haunts. His relationship with them had begun modestly. In 1926 Louis Boucheron had sent a representative to India to test the market for his firm's jewels and accessories. Bhupindar Singh was only mildly interested in what the man had to offer, purchasing nothing more than two pens, a pocket-knife, and a tiepin, all in gold. But on 2 August 1928, unannounced, his imposing figure Suddenly appeared in Boucheron's showroom at 26 Place Vendome. He was accompanied by a dozen Sikh bodyguards, beautiful in their brocaded uniforms and pink turbans, bearing six iron trunks. Inside was a treasure trove of royal gems: hundreds of rubies and pearls, including rare grey pearls; 7,571 white, yellow, and bluish diamonds, totaling 566 carats; and, startling beyond belief, 1,432 huge emeralds with a total weight of 7,800 carats. 

Boucheron's staff was astonished: in contemporary prices, the trunks held a little under two thousand million francs' worth of precious stones. Bhupindar Singh's mission was to have these reset using the most modern techniques but with an eye to the traditional form and function of Indian jewels. In the one day he placed orders for 149 items: about forty for himself, some for his maharanis, and one hundred lesser items for various relations and state officials. It was a huge commission, replete with novelty, but Louis Boucheron’s designers and craftsmen were allowed no time to savour the experience. Bhupiridar Singh was in a tremendous hurry, and the firm could only meet his deadline by farming out some of the work to neighboring jewellers. 

Working overtime in 1928 to meet the impatient demands of Bhupindar Singh of Patiala, the artists at Boucheron nevertheless produced imaginative designs, including this delicate necklace intended to showcase several large pale yellow diamonds.Imagine their surprise, therefore, on discovering a few months later that Cartier was holding an exhibition to display their new settings of the 'crown jewels of Patiala'. As far as Boucheron were concerned, they were the company who had been given this prestigious commission, and Cartier had cheekily stolen their glory. But the story may not be as simple as this. Patiala had been a client of Cartier's since at least 1911. Moreover, Cartier's historian says that the Paris branch had been working on Patiala's order since 1925, well before he took his six trunks of stones to Boucheron.' Remarkable though it seems, Bhupindar Singh had apparently possessed enough spare gems to commission major resetting from both Cartier and Boucheron.

Cartier's finest creation for him was a huge bib-like necklace starring the magnificent De Beers diamond amidst literally thousands of other coloured diamonds in 1938, the journalist Rosita Forbes marvelled at the sight of it in the Patiala armoury: 'when I tried it on, [it] covered half my person with streams and lakes of diamonds. It was set by Cartier and contained pink, yellow, greenish and what I should call pale brown diamonds all as large as my thumb-nails.'3° Cartier's commission included several other necklaces, including one with over seventy large old Indian table-cut diamonds set in platinum with numerous small brilliants, and an Art Deco diamond collar. 

Boucheron's settings focused on Patiala's sumptuous collection of emeralds some 'as large as a dessert spoon', according to Forbes, but their prize creation was also a breast-encompassing necklace, 'and grand deviant de corsage', which dripped tiers of cabochon emeralds. Between them both houses also set a number of bazubands, bracelets, hair and turban ornaments, nose rings (nath), earrings, anklet, belts and buttons.

The dining room of the Pratap Vilas Palace at Jamnagar capital of the Gujarati state of Nawanagar
If the size of the debts that mounted up as a result of this spending spree is any guide, then Boucheron did the lion's share of the work, for in 1929 they were still waiting for payment of over £12,000, while the outstanding bills at Cartier totaled only £7,000.31 With such a slow-payer on their hands/Boucheron soon decided that they bore Cartier no over the 'poaching' of their client; as far as they were concerned, Cartier were welcome to him. Certainly it was to Cartier that Bhupindar Singh returned. In June 1935 he placed another order with them, which included a pair of ruby bead and pearl bracelets with diamond mounts, and a pair of ruby and diamond 'chandelier-style' earrings, fringed with pearls. The latter imitated the multitiered jhumka earrings of India, but they were set in platinum, rather than the customary enamelled or filigreed gold. There was also a substantial ruby, pearl, and diamond tasselled necklace, which, although Art Deco in inspiration, featured the familiar north Indian buta motif and a traditional silk-cord tie.'

The 1935 order can only have compounded Bhupindar Singh's financial difficulties. At the close of 1929 his debts totaled £1.5 million, a huge liability that had been growing for years. Suppliers of European goods clothing, accessories, cars, furniture, photographs, travel and hotel facilities were prominent in the lists of creditors. Spink & Sons alone were owed over £25,000. Why, therefore, had Bhupindar Singh embarked on his Parisian jewellery extravaganza in 1925-8 when his financial situation was so had A clue is provided in the speed with which he insisted that Boucheron complete his order. 

A design, unrealized, by Charles lacqueau of Cartier Paris, for a jewelled turban crown for Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. The large hexagonal emerald was afterwards set in Cartier's famous `Kapurthala headdress' of 1926. In the winter of 1928-29, Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala was intending to celebrate his golden jubilee with a round of gorgeous festivities, to which hundreds of Indian and European guests had been invited. As a brother Sikh, and as the premier prince of the Punjab, Bhupindar Singh appears to have decided that Jagatjit's jubilee was an event at which he should shine. And shine, he did. The French playwright Francis de Croisset visited Kapurthala for the jubilee, and in his book, Nous Avons Fait WI Beau Voyage (1930), he left a memorable, if highly coloured, account of Bhupindar Singh's arrival at one of the big durbars:

De Croisset also described the entrance of several other splendidly bejeweled princes, among them Kashmir, Nawanagar (Jam Nagar), Bikaner, and Alwar. This was the event at which Jagatjit Singh wore Cartier's `Kapurthala headdress', but de Croisset's observations reveal that this was just the tip of the Cartier iceberg on show there. A proud Louis Cartier presented a copy of the book to Jeanne Toussaint, his former lover and chief artistic director in Paris. In it he underlined the author's descriptions of the Kapurthala festivities and added the following margin note:

Unhappily for both the princes and for the European jewellery houses on which they had lavished their patronage, Louis Cartier was not quite right. This was the Indian empire, but it was only part of it, destined soon to be overtaken by events in neighboring British India.

Of Kings and Crowns


Ruby, diamond, and emerald necklace created for the Aga Khan by Van Cleef & Arpels.The crown was a rarity in modem India; among Hindus as well as Muslims the turban was the royal head-gear of choice. Ancient Hindu kings had worn multi-peaked crowns (mirkit1), and tinsel or pith versions of these continue to be used today in weddings and in dramatizations of Hindu epics. Elaborate crowns were also worn by some of the last Mughal emperors and the rulers of the successor states, especially Muslim ones, but these towering confections seem to have symbolized weakness, not power. Drawing heavily on foreign influence, they represented a last, futile protest against their wearers' loss of power to the European interlopers.

The fate of one dynasty's experiment with crowns illustrates the point. In 1819 the East India Company granted the Nawabs of Oudh (Awadh) permission to style themselves as independent rulers `padshah' or emperor in the eyes of Oudh; 'king' in the eyes of the British. Oudh was a large, wealthy state in the centre of north India; it was surrounded on three sides by British territory and had been greedily eyed by successive British governors. Its then ruler Ghazi al-Din Haydar (r. 1814-27), was an extravagant, self-glorifying man who, as a result of his lax administration, was poorly placed to stave off further British incursions into his state. 

The Nawabs of Oudh were the only successors to the Mughals to declare themselves emperors in their own right, a change indicated in this dynastic portrait by the rulers' switch from bejeweled turbans to Western-style crowns.
Overestimating the power that would accompany his new status, he welcomed his elevation to 'king' as proof that he was no longer subordinate to the faded authority of the Mughal emperor. It was a link the British were happy to sever too. In an explicit break with Indian tradition, Ghazi al-Din Haydar had him publicly crowned, an act that required him first to appear bareheaded before his subjects. This is a state which Indians associate with humility, penitence, and submission not royal power. For the occasion, in addition to his new crown, he wore an ermine-trimmed cape and a ceremonial chain. All were unmistakably European in inspiration, and drew on designs provided by a British artist, Robert Home (1752-1834), who was a court painter at Oudh in the 1810s and 20s."

Neither the kings nor their crowns were to last. In 1856 the British annexed Oudh on the grounds that it was poorly governed. Thereafter no Indian prince was allowed to call himself 'king', or adopt anything resembling an 'arched' or 'imperial' crown. The landlords of Oudh nevertheless risked a poignant reminder of their past when they presented the Prince of Wales with a gem-studded 'regal crown' in 1876." Crowns were conspicuously absent from the coats of arms distributed to the princes in 1877 when Victoria was made Empress of India, and any prince who adopted a crown after this date ran the risk of being deemed disloyal. Almost inevitably, therefore, crowns took on the allure of forbidden fruit. In January 1912 government spies in the Punjab reported that the Maharaja of Patiala. 

The image of an upright state minister restraining a wayward prince from lavish spending was a common one. Tanjore Madhav Rao. Chief Minister of Baroda during Sayaji Rao minority was one of the most effective economizers.Bhupindar Singh. had presided at a durbar 'at which he wore a diamond crown made in England. just like the crown of European kings'. It was said to incorporate most of the old state gems and to be worth twenty lakhs of rupees, or £200,000. This was newsworthy not just because of the insult implicit to George V. but because Sikhs in Patiala were reportedly angry that their ruler had abandoned the obligatory turban of their religion in favors of European-style regalia." The government was unable to confirm whether the crown existed or not. but it seems that the offending headgear lived at least in Bhupindar Singh's imagination, for in later years he enjoyed tormenting oversensitive political officers by having a crown printed on his stationery. 

Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala did a similar thing; in 1920 the Punjab government noted with disapproval that his letterhead featured a crown that while 'not a completely "closed or arched crown", (has] something if the middle which might be regarded as a partial arch, and ... is clearly very different from the spiked oriental coronet which is considered the appropriate emblem for adoption by an Indian Prince.' The stationery survived the political department's review on this occasion, but the issue never quite went away. Afterwards, when faced with a political officer who was obsessively concerned with protocol, Jagatjit Singh wrote to him from the Hotel George-V in Paris, cheekily availing himself of the imperial crown on the hotel's stationery."

Sayaji Rao III of Baroda also toyed with the idea of a crown. Although not personally fond of display, he understood the symbolic power of royal jewels, particularly as a marker of his awkward relations with the British and in 1927 he instructed the London branch of Cartier to design a crown for him. He was ready to commit thousands of diamonds, rubies and emeralds to the project, and Cartier laboured on it for years. Its central motif was to be the traditional Hindu symbol of the radiant sun. 

A drawing for a linked upper arm and corsage ornament in diamonds and emeralds for a woman, designed to enhance a sari. It was conceived by Chaumet in the 1920s as one of the many possible settings for the Indore Pears. Cartier's design allowed for its mounting to be pulled apart so that it could be worn in a variety of states of completion, ranging from the sun motif which could function by itself as a regular turban ornament, through to a fully domed crown that encircled and covered the head." The scheme was eventually abandoned in about 1935, when Sayaji Rao was already in his seventies. Presumably the designers at Cartier did not understand the political delicacy of the commission, but Sayaji Rao himself must have known that the British would never have allowed him to wear the full crown in durbar. Did be there-fore finally accept that it was folly to commit so many gemstones to it? Or did he perhaps foresee the time when neither crowns nor monarchs of whatever design and race, would: count for anything more in India?

Counting the Cost

Patiala's debts, like the man himself, may have been unusually large, but they were not unique. Other princes too fell victim to debt, and even when lavish spending on European-style luxuries did not land a prince in financial trouble, it usually attracted a quota of political scandal. The big difference, however, especially from 1930 onwards, was that the chief critics of an indulgent lifestyle were no longer the British, but the homegrown politicians of the Indian National Congress who were fighting for Indian independence. Autocratic princes had no more a place in their vision of a free and democratic nation than did foreign imperialists. The simple and stoic peasant was to be the new nation's hero, not princes who dripped diamonds and raced winners at Ascot. It mattered not that some princes ran their states well, or that most of them had been loyal to the British, or that all of them could point to a deep well of affection and respect from their own subjects. In a changing world, none of these reasons was enough to guarantee their survival as monarchs. 

A pair of emerald and diamond anklets (which join to make a neck lace) in Art Deco style illustrates the versatility with which Indian jewellers met competition from their Western counterparts.
In 1947, the changes came tumbling in all at once. As the war-weary British prepared to quit the subcontinent, fatally riven between its Hindu and Muslim populations, they tried to ensure that they left behind at least one stable, friendly nation who would be willing to maintain ties of trade and defense with the former mother country. India, rather than Pakistan, was the obvious candidate and in attempting to strengthen it for the future, they abandoned attempts to safeguard the independence of their old allies, the princes. Instead, in the baking summer of 1947, the princes were pressed into signing Instruments of Accession to the Union of India. (Bahawalpur went to Pakistan on geographical grounds.) 

Only Hyderabad attempted resistance, but the new India had inherited the old British India's formidable army, and in September 1949, after a pathetically short skirmish, it too was swallowed up. Within another few months, the government had pensioned off all the princes on pl4ivy purses, so that they no longer had administrative responsibilities. For some, this was the ultimate betrayal. Many had supported independence, never dreaming that it meant surrendering the right to rule their own people. Now their power was at an end. In a trickle at first, then a flood, the royal jewels begail to flow out of India again.

Writer – John Adamson
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