For hundreds of years, the emperors of India commissioned extraordinary royal jewellery.
And no one amassed a more dazzling collection than Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani of Qatar’s ruling family.
The Al-Thani collection goes on view in San Francisco and we have a glimpse of the astounding jewels that will be displayed.
One such ornament is the vibrant peacock aigrette, made of gold, diamonds and enamel. The piece is visible in the portraits of the maharaja’s fifth wife, Rani Prem Kaur. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
Here the border of brilliant-cut diamonds and a substantial emerald echo European jewellery designs as the gems are not encased in closed settings that were typical of Indian jewellery. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
The piece’s eight large diamonds, each weighing between 10 to 15 carats, are modified brilliant cuts. The cuts represent an advance in gem-faceting technology in India. The symmetrical arrangement of the gems and the central pendant reveal Western influences. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
Following Independence in 1947, Cartier bought the piece and altered the original design to better suit a woman.
It was subsequently bought and worn by Loel Guinness at author Truman Capote’s famed Black and White Ball in 1966. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
Using gems in Indian kundan settings, the pendant may have been made by a European goldsmith working in India.
The figure may be a snake god, Nagadevata. The Nagas were semi-divine, with a human face and the neck of a cobra.
The large pearl came to India through trade, either from the Pacific Ocean or from waters off the coast of America.
The composition of the pendant is directly inspired by 16th century Italian prototypes and reflects Mughal interests in the arts of the West. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
In 1937, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar asked Cartier to set the ‘Tiger Eye’, an unusual cognac-coloured diamond discovered in 1913 and sold by the firm to his predecessor Maharaja Ranjitsinhji.
Cartier designed a turban ornament around the gem, using baguette-cut diamonds to create an Art Deco look for this traditional Indian jewellery form. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
It has three bands of calligraphy — the central band, carved in monumental sols script, has a royal dedication announcing that the cup was made for Jahangir; the upper border, in Nasta’aliq script, confirms it was the personal cup of the emperor and was made in the second year of his reign, therefore between April 1607 and March 1608.
Persian verses ornament the cup, including some contemporary 17th century poetry, and it is suggested that the poet responsible was the maker of the cup itself.
The superintendent of the royal goldsmiths at the time was also rewarded by Jahangir for his skills as a poet. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
The bottle is inscribed with its weight for the treasury records. Differences in the colour of gold and the settings suggest that the neck is a replacement dating from the late 18th century.
Rosewater was also sprinkled at larger social gatherings as a sign of favour and hospitality.
A similar bottle was removed from Delhi in 1739 and taken to Russia in 1741 by envoys of the Iranian ruler Nadir Shah. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor
An opulent matching set was ordered by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and this choker is the smallest surviving part of the set.
The maharaja reportedly ordered a number of jewels from Cartier and Boucheron, mainly for men, in 1925 and 1928 respectively, and later in 1931, he ordered some jewels for the women of the family. Photograph: Kind courtesy Legion of Honor