New Delhi: For once men are not complaining and accompanying women folk to view some exquisite diamonds, considered “a woman’s best friend”.
A silent witness to history, the ‘Jewels of India: The Nizam’s Jewellery Collection’ is on display at New Delhi’s National Museum.
“That’s probably because men know the items are not for sale,” a woman joked as she took pictures of some necklaces and bracelets.
“I will get imitations made of these,” she said firmly, as her husband gaped at her with a deadpan expression.
One of the most fabulous collections of its kind in the world, it was kept in the safe vaults of the Reserve Bank of India in Mumbai at one time — owing to protracted litigation over the treasure. “The Nizam’s jewels are especially unique, as they hold a significant position in the records of gemmology and jewellery,” archaeologist and curator of the exhibition Sanjib Kumar Singh, of the National Museum, said.
The collection comprising 173 dazzling pieces, including one of the world’s largest diamonds — the Jacob Diamond, was part of the trusts created by Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, after India’s Independence.
Who were the Nizams?
Nizam was the title of the native sovereigns of the erstwhile Hyderabad State. They belonged to the Asaf Jahi dynasty, which was founded by Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqui. The 18th century witnessed the downfall of the Mughal Empire and the rise of provincial rulers in the north and south. Seven Nizams ruled Hyderabad for two centuries until India’s Independence in 1947.
History behind the collection
Mir Osman Ali Khan had created a number of trusts to safeguard his great wealth. The jewelled items put into each trust were not to be sold during his own or his son Azam Jah’s lifetime. The Nizam died in 1967 and his son in 1970. Thereafter, the trustees decided to dissolve these trusts and sell the jewels. In 1972, negotiations began between the Government of India and the family for the sale of this priceless treasure. Finally, in 1995, the government acquired 173 outstanding jewellery pieces of the collection for Rs2.7 billion. In today’s terms, its worth could be over Rs20 billion (Dh1 billion).
Heavily guarded by Central Industrial Security Force personnel, visitors can view the royal regalia cased in the glass show windows.
Forming the centrepiece, the 184.5-carat Jacob Diamond rests on a velvet cushion. Known to be the fifth largest in the world, the 58-faceted diamond is almost double the size of the Koh-i-Noor (105.6 carats), which the British acquired after conquering the Punjab State in 1849. Discovered in the Kimberly mines of South Africa in the 1800s, the oval diamond, originally weighing 457.5 carats, was cut and polished to its present weight. As the legend goes, jeweller Alexander Malcolm Jacob, after whom the invaluable stone is named, sold it to the sixth Nizam, Mehboob Ali Pasha. But the deal ended up in a criminal lawsuit. Such was the conflict that Nizam is said to have developed distaste for the diamond and tossed it in a drawer, wrapped in a rag. It was found stashed in an old slipper by the last Nizam, Mir Qasim Ali Khan, who used it as a paperweight after getting it affixed on a gold base.
Splendour of the jewels
Other items on display are a collection of 22 unset emerald pieces, pearl necklaces, bracelets, buttons, cufflinks, belts, buckles, pocket watch, arm bands, rings, earrings, hair accessory, bangles, neck pieces, nose rings and necklaces — all of a rare and fascinating beauty and studded with the most exquisite cut and uncut diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other gems.
“From time immemorial, the existence of jewellery in society has been a common phenomenon. But such was the splendour of the Nizams that jewellery worn by royal men and women now represent some of the finest jewels and cultural heritage globally. It also signifies that ornaments can enhance not only a woman’s beauty, but can also add to the charm of a man,” the curator conveyed.
In princely India, the headdress and head ornaments constituted an important component of donning any attire. Turban ornaments in particular became quintessential insignias of royalty and were the discernible symbols of social and religious hierarchy.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Nizam and his nobles always wore jewellery while attending the durbar (court) or other formal state functions. Men wore the turban with an ornament. The Nizam and members of the royal household would wear, in addition to the turban bearing the ornament, a distinguished adornment in the form of a suspended free hanging string of gold wire and pearls.
The neck would be beautified as the occasion demanded, with an assortment of necklaces and the coat would have jewelled buttons, along with the belt on the waist.
The collection has numerous specimens of belts and precious stones that were part of the Nizam’s personal possessions. Many of the belts were ornamented with large gemstones attached to the woven gold belts. The upper arms would have armbands and on the hands they wore bracelets and rings.
As one walks through the chamber admiring each section, art historian Rekha Bhardwaj comments, “The jewellery is not just an example of opulence, but also exhibits the fine artistry and rich craftsmanship of India’s rich heritage.”
With the times!
In the early 20th century, novelties such as pocket watches that were in style in Paris and London caught the eye of Indian royalty. This form of ornamentation was soon incorporated as part of their formal attire.
What also interest the visitors are early photographs of the royal Nizam families, posing with their costumes and jewellery.
Bollywood period dramas
The Nizams jewellery has been a huge inspiration for Bollywood period dramas. From turbans and necklaces worn in Jodhaa Akbar and Padmavat to earrings and anklets in Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah, these jewels have inspired many films. Since designers do not have access to the precious gemstones, they take inspiration and create imitations of the jewellery from the paintings and ancient sculptures.