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What You Didn’t Know About Indian Maharajas and Their Jewels

The mention of Indian royalty brings to mind flamboyant images of lavishly dressed Maharajas and Maharanis, with the jewelry adorned by them grabbing attention before anything else. Among all the renowned jewelry houses behind these magnificent pieces, the one whose name comes first to the mind is none other than Cartier.


The connection between India and Cartier goes back to as early as the 1910s when Jacques Cartier traveled to India to attend the elevation of King George V as the Emperor of India at the Delhi Durbar. Over the years, Cartier had established itself as one of the go-to jewelry houses. The surprise appearance of the Cartier diamond choker at Met Gala 2022, which was once owned by the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, prompted us to revisit some of the most iconic Cartier Indian jewelry pieces owned by Indian royalty.  In this blog, we go down the memory lane to take a look at some of them.

The Nawanagar Diamond Necklace

Maharaja Sir Ranjitsinhji and the design for the Nawanagar Cartier diamond necklace.
Image courtesy: Jewellery Insights by Katerina Perez

 The famed Nawanagar Cartier Diamond Necklace was created by Jacques Cartier in 1931 for the erstwhile Maharaja of Nawanagar (now Jamnagar), Sir Ranjitsinhji. The necklace had two strands of white diamonds connected on both sides by square pink diamonds. The center pendant was made of several pink diamonds, a big 26-carat blue diamond, a 12-carat green diamond, and the famed 136-carat Queen of Holland diamond. The necklace weighed roughly 500 carats in total.

Though only photographic impressions of the actual necklace, the piece was recreated by Cartier as the centerpiece for Ocean’s 8. The necklace was named the Toussaint Cartier Necklace after Jeanne Toussaint, Cartier’s then creative director.

 

Anne Hathaway wearing the Toussaint Cartier Necklace in Ocean’s 8.
Image courtesy: Only Natural Diamonds

 

The Nawanagar Ruby Necklace

The Nawanagar ruby necklace, commissioned by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji in 1937. Image courtesy: Jewellery Insights by Katerina Perez

 The Nawanagar Ruby Necklace has also earned a spot among the most famous and finest jewelry pieces owned by Indian royalty. It was commissioned to Cartier in 1937 by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Jadeja, the successor of Sir Ranjitsinhji as the Maharaja of Nawanagar. This exceptional beauty is made of an excellent collection of 116 oval and cushion-cut Burmese rubies collected by Ranjitsinhji and diamonds set in platinum. After the Independence of India, the necklace was returned to Cartier for resale. It was also worn by the wife of Loel Guinness, a British Conservative politician, at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966. The necklace is now a part of the prominent Al Thani collection



Mrs. Loel Guinness wearing the Nawanagar Ruby Necklace at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, 1966. Image courtesy: The Diamond Talk

 

The Tiger’s Eye Turban Ornament 

The turban ornament with the Tiger’s Eye as its centerpiece.
Image courtesy: Jewellery Insights by Katerina Perez

The Tiger’s Eye Turban Ornament was another impressive piece created by Cartier for Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Jadeja in 1937. The Tiger’s Eye was an exquisite cognac-colored diamond that was discovered in 1913 in the Orange River in South Africa and was sold by Cartier to Maharaja Sir Ranjitsinhji. This majestic ornament was created by Cartier using baguette-cut diamonds surrounding the Tiger’s Eye as the centerpiece to give the piece an Art Deco look. The ornament, along with the Nawanagar Ruby Necklace, is now a part of the Al Thani collection.

 

The Patiala Necklace

The Patiala necklace with the 234.65-carat yellow De Beers diamond.
Image courtesy: TN Horse Trails
 
One cannot simply talk about Cartier’s relationship with the Indian Maharajas, without the mention of Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala and one of Cartier’s regular clients. The centerpiece was the rare 234.65-carat yellow De Beers diamond, the seventh-largest polished diamond in the world. The Maharaja presented Cartier with 4000 precious stones, including 2,930 diamonds, Burmese rubies, and the De Beers diamond, to design a necklace for him. It took the house three years of craftsmanship to create this opulent piece.


Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala wearing the Patiala Necklace.
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

The Patiala necklace was lost once the Maharajas' reign came to an end until it resurfaced in 1998 when it was discovered in London in a severely damaged state and several missing stones, including the De Beers diamond. Because the necklace was Cartier's most spectacular jewel, the house opted to rebuild it, replacing the missing stones with less expensive substitutes.

 

The Patiala Ruby Choker

The Patiala ruby choker, commissioned by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh.
Image courtesy: The Adventurine
 
The Patiala necklace made Maharaja Bhupinder Singh a regular client of Cartier’s. He returned to the house to commission a necklace to be designed for one of his wives, Maharani Yagoda Devi. This magnificent piece was created using an exquisite collection of rubies, diamonds, and pearls set in rows of platinum. Though this choker too was lost with the end of the reign of the Maharajas, a part of it was discovered at a European auction house and refashioned as a bracelet. After its discovery, it was recreated by Cartier’s craftspersons.