Bonhams to auction Indian royal family’s treasure trove

Bonhams to auction Indian royal family’s treasure trove

By OUR CORRESPONDENT | | 9 April, 2016

​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.

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