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Pearl Necklace

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July 11, 2023
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Babur II 1881-1920

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       India boasts an unbroken tradition in the decorative arts that can be traced back at least five thousand years. A notable spurt in the traditional jewelled arts of India took place in the late nineteenth century, a period that witnessed a marriage between the traditional craft knowledge of the Subcontinent and European fashions and taste of the time, as highlighted by this necklace. 

 

        Up until the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1707) it was common practice for the Mughal emperors to perform the ceremony of khil'at, where deserving courtiers and subjects would be presented with gifts as a reward for good service to the state.  Such gifts would include honorary robes, be-jewelled daggers, sashes (kamarband), and turban ornaments (sarpech). The regular bestowing of gifts to courtiers required a constant supply of jewels to be on hand.  Abu'l-Fazl  tells us of Akbar's twelve treasuries (khanzana) three of which were for precious stones, gold and jewellery. Along with these treasuries there would have been workshops within the palace complex, with craftsmen carrying out the many royal commissions. Abu'l-Fazl  mentions that the gems in the treasury were stored according to weight with emeralds coming first, followed by rubies, diamonds, pearls and sapphires. Retention of weight was an important factor in the fashioning of these gems so excessive cutting and carving was generally avoided. Rubies, emeralds and sapphires were often left en cabochon, the form in which they were naturally found.  Inscribing gems with the emperor's name was seen as a mark of appreciation for the quality of the stone.

 

        This tradition continued into the nineteenth century and it is interesting to note that the emerald on this necklace was identified by Gübelin as being of Russian origin. Historically, emeralds were mined in Columbia and reached India via Spanish merchants as trade goods. Enormous quantities of emeralds were acquired by the Mughals and a strong trade developed with the Mughals purchasing the largest and finest quality of emeralds. The discovery of emeralds in Russia first took place in the early nineteenth century in the Ural Mountains, coinciding with the dating of the current example and demonstrating the continued desire for these gemstones by Indian patrons and the opening of new trade networks. 

 

        The mount, designed as two facing parrots between a foliate branch, is set with foil-backed flat-cut diamonds. This was achieved by use of the kundan technique by which precious stones were set into hyper-purified gold that was refined into strips of malleable foil which develops an adhesive quality at room temperature. The gemstones, in this case diamonds, were then placed directly into this setting, on a polished gold or silver foil to highlight the gemstone’s reflection and colour. This rich design is further enhanced with a bright and colourful enamel layer to the reverse.

 

       The present carved emerald necklace embodies the historical love of the Mughal elite for important gemstones, the symbolism attached to motifs such as parrots and the continued influence of Mughal jewellery on the European style. 


 

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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.

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