Indian gemstones ever since the fabled Kohinoor diamond was presented to Queen Victoria in 1849 as part of the booty from the British annexation of the Punjab. Indian jewellery, including pieces from the courts of Delhi, Gwalior and Jaipur, had first featured prominently at the International Exhibition in South Kensington in 1871. The riches of the subcontinent received another boost when Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India in 1876. By the late 1880s, Indian jewellery, with its spontaneous variety, curves and convulsions, was the flavour of the era.
The story of how he sold his first diamond was one of the many myths that outlived Jacob. Using the money he had saved in Hyderabad and his keen eye for a bargain, he bought his first diamond for a pittance. He then sold it for more than a 100% profit to an English collector. “From that moment on his ambition was fixed,” wrote Frederick Heath, recounting what Jacob had told him. He left Hyderabad and went to Delhi where “he boldly entered into competition with the finest jewellers of the East but, fearing nothing and with sublime faith in himself, he soon acquired a position of influence, and rapidly made money”.
It is doubtful whether Jacob had such a smooth ride. Much of the domestic market was firmly in the hands of banias, a caste of Gujarati traders who still dominate the diamond trade today. European jewellers had a long-established foothold as well. Ralph Fitch, one of the earliest British travellers to reach India in 1583, wrote that one member of his party, a man by the name of William Leader, remained behind to serve as a jeweller for the King of Cambay. Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras in the early eighteenth century, sent vast quantities of rough diamonds to Europe where they were sold at a huge profit. Europe’s largest jewellery firms sent their agents to India to procure precious stones which were cut and set in contemporary settings.
Jacob had certain advantages. His apprenticeships at the court of the Nizam and in Calcutta at Charles, Nephew & Co had taught