Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Patiala Necklace ....story from Maharaja....

Currently on exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario [AGO] in Toronto is the Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts. On loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (where it was originally exhibited in 2009), the focus of the exhibition is the artistic and cultural legacy left behind by India's royal dynasties. To tempt and dazzle the eye are over two-hundred objects and artifacts which range from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries, and include furniture, a silvered landau, an orange-and-silver Phantom II Rolls-Royce automobile (known as The Star of India), a golden throne, armour, paintings, objets d'art, textiles, costumes and, of course, spectacular jewellery and ceremonial objects. But of all the objects on display - symbolic of wealth, power and prestige - one stands alone as a last, waning tribute to India's kingly magnificence: the Patiala Necklace.Like a golden thread woven through every epoch of human history, the cultural significance of jewellery has always been the denotation of power, wealth, eminence, control and rank; indeed, these values and outward signals of riches are inextricably linked with jewellery and, in time, jewellery has developed into an instantly recognizable (non-verbal) language of its own. India's Maharjas knew this language intimately well and spent fortunes on self-adornment, as evidenced in their penchant for acquiring incredible jewels. Using gemstones of the highest quality, value and size, for centuries, India's finest craftsmen were retained to skillfully create unprecedented jewellery for the ruling classes. But by the 20th century, urbane Indian aristocrats eager to move through and be a part of café society, turned increasingly towards Europe - where they established themselves in sophisticated city-centres such as London and Paris - and to European jewellers and designers to craft more contemporary pieces, in tune with the times and tastes of the period. For such clientele, nothing personified European sophistication better than Cartier, the renowned French jewellers. And so, it was to Cartier that the commission for a stately necklace, worthy of an Indian prince, was entrusted by Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, in 1928. Born into the Phukian dynasty in 1891 and succeeding to the title of Maharaja of Patiala in 1900 at the age of nine, Bhupinder Singh (1891-1938) was probably the most famous ruler of the princely state of Patiala - a very important Sikh state in India with a land mass of 5,932 square miles - whose family had ruled since 1764. Known for his extravagance, excess and his inordinate love of cricket, the Maharaja of Patiala inherited an extraordinary wealth, including the seventh largest faceted and polished diamond in existence: the De Beers diamond - a cushion-cut pale yellow diamond weighing 234.69 carats. (Sources:, undated; Moonan, W.,, November 29, 2002)
Discovered in a South African De Beers mine in March 1888, the pale yellow octahedron diamond was cut and displayed at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889 where it caused a sensation. Its present weight of 234.69 carats was the inevitable result of 200 carats being lost during the cutting process from its original, natural state. It was purchased by Rajendra Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala at the time of the Paris Exhibition. Although he never had it mounted, it is believed that Rajendra Singh may have worn it on his turban.

In the 1920's, Rajendra's son, Bhupinder Singh often visited London and Paris - Westley Richards made his guns in Birmingham, England; S. T. Dupont created his lighters in Paris; and Rolls Royce supplied the Maharaja with his cars. In 1925, Bhupinder visited Cartier's in Paris with an abundant cache of loose stones in tow and with the intention of creating a ceremonial necklace; among those loose stones were the yellow De Beers diamond, another large, tobacco-coloured diamond, and two Burmese rubies. To help finance the new commission, Bhupinder sold Cartier some of the pink diamonds and pearls that he brought with him and which, at the time, were reputed to be worth more than a Rembrandt.
(Sources:, undated; Moonan, W.,, November 29, 2002)