Princely treasures: Bonhams to auction jewels owned by Indian royal family

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Published: April 10, 2016 6:04:58 AM

Bonhams to auction collection of jewels owned by Indian royal family in London on April 19

A collection of jewels owned by an Indian royal family is set to go under the hammer, with the top piece set to sell for up to £70,000.A collection of jewels owned by an Indian royal family is set to go under the hammer, with the top piece set to sell for up to £70,000.

A collection of jewels owned by an Indian royal family is set to go under the hammer, with the top piece set to sell for up to £70,000.

The collection, which will be auctioned by Bonhams at its Indian and Islamic sale in Bond Street in London on April 19, is owned by a UK-based family which wishes to remain anonymous. The collection includes a south Indian marriage necklace, a jewel-encrusted dagger and a diamond-set belt buckle.

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The main sale rooms are in London, New York and Hong Kong.

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 also by traditional temple dancers (known as devadasis 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 was probably made in Rajasthan, known for its royal workshops and enamelling centres carrying on the Mughal tradition of superlative quality enamelling. 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 treasures 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 and 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 beautiful piece is estimated at £8,000-12,000.

“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.”

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