Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence

Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence

What you need to know about one of the world’s finest collection of Indian jewels, gemstones and jewelled objects up for auction in New York this summer.

Art deco carved emerald, sapphire, diamond and pearl aigrette. Photo source:




Up for auction are over 400 pieces from the Al Thani collection. An unparalleled collection of Mughal jewels, European-Indian hybrid designs and 20th Century creations by leading Jewellery houses spanning over 500 years of history and sovereign power on the subcontinent.

“This is as major as a collection as we’ll ever see at auction” says Rahul Kadakia, Christies international head of jewellery.

Art deco emerald, diamond and enamel brooch. Photo source:



The House of Thani, the ruling family of Qatar, are heavily involved in the field of arts. For more than twenty years the family has been buying a large collection of art works, from traditional Islamic artefacts to famous pieces of modern and contemporary art.

Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, after seeing the 2009 Maharajah exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, acquired more than 6000 bejewelled objects and artwork, of which the Christie’s sale features less than 10 per cent from across the entire collection.

Antique imperial spinel, pearl and emerald necklace. Photo source:


This collection comes with its share of controversy in art circles, due to secrecy from the family, it has been impossible to assess if these acquisitions are purely private or done on behalf of the state.

Antique sapphire and gold ring. Photo source:



This stunning treasure trove of jewels date back almost 500 years to the early part of the Mughal dynasty which ruled India from 1526-1857. It includes ornaments, ceremonial objects and decorative art used by Kings and elites during the golden age if the Maharajas.

Jewellery was traditionally an integral aspect of articulating authority and rulers valued gems for their rarity, physical properties and provenance.

Antique emerald and pearl necklace. Photo source:


Indian royal treasures include:

The Belle Époque white gold and diamond encrusted Jigha - 1907 (turban ornament) would have been worn on formal occasions.

Belle Époque white gold and diamond encrusted Jigha. Photo source:


The gold pen case and inkwell (1575-1600) is encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. At the time the ceremonial inkwells were the insignia of both imperial rank and governmental office. Pen cases implied learning and denoted authority and were prized possessions of sultans and their chief ministers.

Gold pen case and inkwell. Photo source:



The earliest diamond mine known to man, located in India, has yielded some of the most iconic high-grade diamonds of all time.

The famous Arcot II diamond, was one of two such diamond ear drops sent as a gift to Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), the wife of King George III, from the Nawab of Arcot. The diamonds were later acquired by the Marquess of Westminster and mounted in the Westminster Tiara which was worn at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

It is a brilliant – cut, internally flawless, pear shaped, D colour stone weighing 17.21 carats.

Arcot II diamond. Photo source:


The Mirror of Paradise Diamond, also up for auction is a 52.58 carats, D colour rectangular cut and internally flawless stone. This diamond was previously sold at auction for $10.9 million.

The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace (mid to late 19th century) is an especially spectacular illustration of Indian princely jewellery. Made of gold with seven large foiled triangular diamonds, variously shaped faceted and rose cut diamonds, carved emerald beads and green enamel. This breath-taking masterpiece is completed with a triangular diamond pendant surrounded by 12 diamond leaves.

Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace. Photo source:



Of all the great jewellery houses, Cartier had the longest and most successful association with India, and these cross-cultural connections are evident in many of the spectacular Cartier creations in the collection.

A succession of Maharajas would journey with trunk loads of India’s finest gems and pearls to Cartier, and other leading jewellery houses, fascinated by the Parisian styles created by the 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 relationship was so significant that Jacques Cartier made numerous visits to India starting in 1911, to cultivate relationships across the subcontinent from Kapurthala to Mysore.

The Patiala Ruby Choker, originally created by Cartier in 1931, was one of the most impressive jewels to come out of the collaboration between Cartier and the Maharaja of Patiala. An incredible ruby, natural pearl and diamond multilayer necklace. The Patiala choker is the surviving portion of this exquisite masterpiece.

Patiala Ruby Choker. Photo source:


Cartier created some outstanding ‘India-inspired’ pieces during the Art Deco period especially for their Western clientele. A great example is the magnificent emerald, sapphire and diamond belt buckle, worn by the daughter of Sir Edward Sassoon and Baroness Aline de Rothschild at both the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Art-deco emerald, sapphire annd diamond belt buckle by Cartier. Photo source:


This devant-de-corsage brooch beautifully illustrates the majesty of the Belle Époque period. Made to order in 1912 by a South African mining magnate it is the perfect example of the delicate serti muguet (lily-of-the-valley setting) favoured by Cartier at the time and mastered by its famous workshop, Atelier Henri Picq.

Devant-De-Corsage Brooch. Photo source:


These exquisite works of art with their fascinating stories would really be like owing a piece of living history.

These objects and many more from the Al Thani collection shall be auctioned at Christie’s, New York on 19th June 2019. Sale proceeds will support ongoing initiatives of the Al Thani Collection Foundation.


Discover more about the collection in “Bejewelled Treasures- The Al Thani Collection” by Susan Stronge- Available in store.