Rulers of every princely state – big or small – had their own collection of heirloom gems and jewellery. No one can deny the fact that India has been a pioneering source of precious gems, giving world the fine diamonds like – Koh-I-Noor, Orlov, Blue Hope to name the few. It is a fact that not only western travellers but also world famous jewellers like Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels, were enraptured by the array of sumptuous gems and jewellery possessed by the Royals families. The jewellery designed and made for the Maharajas were a combination of the country’s exuberant colours, motifs and forms with refined European grace and techniques. For centuries, some of these magnificent creations have become royal heirlooms, trickled down through generations, while others were lost, auctioned off or even stolen.

Here you will read about two famous Jewellery Houses- Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels, and their association with the Royal Indian Maharajas. This will also give a sneak view into the opulent world of the maharajas through their jewels.

Since his first trip to India, in 1911, Jacques Cartier (1884-1942) had become familiar with the extravagant tastes of the maharajas.

Necklace for Maharaja of Nawanagar

Drawing of the ceremonial necklace, “finest cascade of coloured diamonds in the World” for the Maharaja of Nawanagar. In 1931 Jacques Cartier presented the Maharaja with a dazzling project. The Maharaja of Nawanagar died in 1933, only after 2 years of the completion of the necklace.

Patiala Necklace for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala

The Patiala Necklace is an art deco style necklace created by the House of Cartier in 1928 after three years of hard work. It was made for and named after Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. It contained 2,930 diamonds, including as its centrepiece, the world’s seventh largest diamond, the “De Beers” that had a 428 carat pre-cut weigh, and weighed 234.65 carats in its final setting. It is probably one of the most privileged and expensive jewellery in Indian history.

The $25 million necklace sparked controversy when it disappeared mysteriously from the royal treasury of Patiala in April 1948. It was later rediscovered and purchased by Cartier in 1998. However, with most of the gems missing and due to high price of real diamonds, CZs were used to recreate the original beauty.

It took Cartier 2 years to reassemble the necklace. Since then it has been on display in many exhibitions all over the world.

Turban ornament in Tigers eye for maharaja of Kapurthala

Turban ornament for Maharaja Ranjitsinhji Jam in 1934

In 1937, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar asked Cartier to set the 61.50-carat ‘Tiger Eye’, an unusual cognac-coloured diamond discovered in 1913 and sold by the firm to his predecessor Maharaja Ranjisinhji. Cartier designed a turban ornament around the gem, using baguette-cut diamonds to create an Art Deco look for this traditional Indian jewellery form.

It was discovered in the Orange River in South Africa.

The Maharajah purchased it from Cartier, and it is still in its exquisite original platinum-and-diamond setting.

Like many other very fine jewels, it is designed to be adaptable: the turban ornament can be split up by removing a frond of diamonds, turning it into a clip brooch. The central setting with the diamond can in turn be unscrewed from the brooch and set into other jewels. However, there is an an additional, highly unusual feature: the setting can be un-clipped, releasing the diamond completely.

Van Cleef and Arpels

The Baroda Set

The “Baroda Set” ordered by the Maharani of Baroda, “The Indian Wallis Simpson”, wife of the Maharaja of Baroda in 1949-50. This impressive suite of jewellery was designed by Jacques Arpels for Sita Devi, the second wife of Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaekwad of Baroda. It consists of 13 pear-shaped Colombian emeralds – 154 carats in total – suspended from diamonds set in the shape of a lotus flower. All the gems were all supplied by the Maharani and belonged to the Baroda Crown Jewels.

Mughal Inspired necklace

This necklace is created by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1960. The gold and diamond caps on the emerald caps found on pendant beads in much Mughal Jewellery. This is a classic example of fusion of Mughal and Indian art in jewellery and manufactured by western jewellers.