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The most incredible jewelry of all time: from the Great Mughals to the Maharajahs !

FIVE centuries of jewelry tradition

This spring the Grand Palais in Paris witnessed an impressive jewelry exhibition. With a showcase of more than 250 exceptional pieces, the Al Thani Collection display immersed the public in time travel through the Indian jewelry tradition from the Mughal period to the modern day. Beyond doubt, the curation presented a true observation of the evolution of taste, traditions, and techniques of the jewelry making art. Here is OggDESIGN’s summary of the FIVE greatest takeaways from the expo.

1. India: home to natural gemstones

The South Asian culture, in which gems and jewels are an integral aspect of daily wear, is partly the result of natural coincidence. The region, after millions of years of geological changes, has been and is still home to a vast trove of natural gemstones: fine diamonds were found in the Deccan, Kashmir produced sapphires of the most beautiful hue, and Badakhshan was home to the most prized spinels. Sapphires and rubies were available from nearby Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar), and pearls became accessible through trade with the Persian Gulf. Similarly, emeralds gravitated to India through commercial exchange, brought by European merchants after their discovery in Colombian mines. Furthermore, India always supplemented its gold deposits of gold through its exports and exchanges of antiquities, spices and textiles. It is no surprise therefore that with so many natural precious resource the people from India have developed the knowhow and the love for these precious treasures.

 2. Gemstone significance

The exhibition was keen to emphasise that jewelry in India goes beyond mere adornment. Every gem has significance in reflecting a cosmic purpose or invoking a favourable horoscope: connected to the major planets, it was in particular believed that these gems could influence one’s destiny. For example, diamonds were said to propel long life and success.

Similarly, sapphires were associated with health, rubies with vitality, emeralds with intellect, and pearls with emotional stability and creativity. One cannot help but appreciate the similarities where, in popular culture particularly, particular forms of jewelry also serve to reflect rank, caste, region, marital status, or wealth.

3. Courtly riches

The Al Thani curation also highlighted how precious metals and gemstones were used in occasion pieces at court, especially in ceremonial apparel, weapons or furnishings. Indeed, when Europeans arrived at the Mughal court, they were notably overwhelmed by the richness of these Mughal treasures, which were especially evident in the abundance of jewels on the emperor himself and all his surroundings. Pieces such as these came to characterize the richness of Mughal court life, as such becoming historic documents themselves for the enlightenment of all generations.

4. The Kundan stone setting technique

In the period of design covered by the showcase, much Indian jewelry was characterized by Kundan: a technique in which gems are set in gold without the use of a prong. Instead, strips of malleable pure gold are used to fashion the mount, forming a molecular bond around the gem.

This process meant that the gemstones in Indian jewelry are typically closed-set. In turn this led to a striking contrast in gem cutting with the West: instead of fashioning into symmetrical shapes, in India stones were cut to retain as much of their size as possible, where the setting was not thought to enhance the preciosity and purity of the stones.

5. Western Influence: Jacques Cartier

In the 19th century, fashionable Indian jewelry became increasingly shaped by Western influence. This was evident in design, gem faceting and gem mounting – which gave way to the open, Western-style claw settings for holding precious stones. Throughout this period, many European jewelers collected indigenous pieces while in India, which they often re-mounted or re-set to make use of the exotic style of these original pieces. The markedly different aesthetic of Indian jewelry also began to inspire the most avant-garde creations made in the West. This influence can for example be discerned by the use of magnificent gemstones in the Art Deco movement (an OggDESIGN favorite) as symbols of the past Indian exuberance. In particular, Jacques Cartier travelled to India in 1911 with the hope of finding new clients and fresh sources of precious stones. His sustained contact with Indian princes led to some of the greatest commissions executed by his firm. Almost immediately, the firm started to supply maharajas with stock products and customized creations. From this moment, Cartier confirmed his savoir-faire in high jewelry and became the jeweler of the kings, the princes, the aristocracy and all prominent people.


Ornamental Turban Tiger, a creation by Cartier London 1937, Platinum and diamonds brooch with a diamond Tiger eye of 61,50 cts.


Portrait of Maharajah Sir Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, 1906, wearing jewelry with pearls, diamonds and emeralds.


Brooch, designed by Paul Iribe, manufactured by Robert Linzeler, Paris 1910, carved emerald, diamonds, sapphires, pearls set on platinum.

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