Acclaimed international auction house, Bonhams will auction a collection of jewels and ornaments owned by an Indian royal family at its Indian and Islamic sale later this month. The UK-based family which is parting with its treasure wishes to remain anonymous. The family treasure which has been handed on from generation to generation includes —a South Indian marriage necklace, a jewel encrusted dagger and extravagant princely jewels such as an emerald and diamond-set belt buckle.
“This is a treasure trove,” says Rukmani Kumari Rathore, specialist in Islamic and Indian art at Bonhams. “They are magnificent examples of 18th and 19th century craftsmanship and provide a wonderful opportunity to purchase an heirloom once owned by Indian royalty,” she adds.
The ‘manga malai’ necklace — one of the highlights of the collection — is composed of linked mango-shaped elements, lavishly set with rubies and diamonds, and estimated at £50,000-70,000. The ‘mango garland’ design is unique to southern India, where the mango is regarded as a symbol of love and fertility. The ‘manga malai’ was worn by women at special occasions such as weddings, and by traditional temple dancers (known as ‘devadasi’ or servants of the god or goddess) who would dedicate their lives to the worship of temple deities in a manner akin to marriage. Similar necklaces can be found in the David Collection in Copenhagen and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
The dagger is an impressive gem-set enamelled piece decorated with gold, rubies and diamonds. The hilt is of a type rarely produced in Mughal India and finds comparison with 18th century Persian daggers of similar form. It is believed to have been crafted in Rajasthan where once flourished the Mughal tradition of superlative quality enamelling in the form of a large number of workshops and enamelling centres. There is a similarly decorated hilt in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection in London. Set with a formidable 17th century Ottoman double-edged watered steel blade, it is estimated at £30,000-50,000.
Also among the princely family’s treasure is a rare belt buckle set with emeralds and diamonds and estimated at £18,000-£25,000. The front is set with precious stones and the reverse exquisitely enamelled in green colours with elegant floral motifs. A delicate yet magnificent armband will also feature in the sale. A central octagonal diamond is flanked by diamond-set motifs, with the reverse side decorated as attentively as the front with fine enamelling comprising gold scrolling floral motifs on a dark green background. This delicate and quietly beautiful piece is estimated at £8,000-12,000.