Art News & Views

Slivery Facets of Golden Diamonds from Golconda


Gold set with diamond necklaces from the collection of the Nizam's jewellery

by Koeli Mukherjee Ghose

All the way through the history of the Golconda mines, the rulers of the region retained the best and biggest sized diamonds and precious stones. Beyond a certain weight, the export of stones was prohibited. It was known that the mines were depleted by the 17th Century.

The geologists, who visited Golconda during the Asaf Jah rule, reported in great detail the methods practiced in the mines to unearth, extract and turn out gems. These accounts show that in the 19th Century, several mines were still full of precious stones, but not as abundantly as in the past. News of new discoveries, of astounding pieces had stopped during Asaf Jah rule but Hyderabad state still had a stable supply of good quality gems.

The Bala – Kohinoor, (Bala i.e. small) a huge diamond of the fine variety that weighed nearly 400 Carats, was the only astonishing diamond that appeared during Asaf Jah rule, it was later renamed as the Nizam diamond. A gold smith is known to have buried the stone in an earthen pot. Afterwards the stone was fractured.

In 1835, the Diwan of the Nizam, Nasir- ud- Daula, bought the largest piece on behalf of the Nizam. It remained in the Asaf Jah treasury. Later it was mortgaged to meet the financial responsibilities of the state, for a short while. The stone was of such clarity that it was never cut or polished. To keep a record of the stone, a replica was made out of glass, when it was mortgaged.

Usha Balakrishanan in her book- Jewels of the Nizam, mentions that the gem was last seen In December 1891 by a reporter from San Francisco Chronicle. On his request, Mahboob Ali Pasha showed him the stone. She mentions “He reports that the Nizam - took it from its place in an ordinary green case He carefully opened the box, slowly unwound a dirty- little cloth and placed in my hand a great crystal like slug as big as a champagne glass, and worth just 800,000 pounds. It was the Nizam diamond.”

It is said that the diamond was sold for the sum of Rs. 10 crore and that the glass replica is still with the jeweller who conducted the sale. The Nizam diamond does not feature in any of the jewellery trusts. Shahzadi Pasha Begum is reported to have seen the diamond three days before Osman Ali Khan passed away, which infer that it was with him till the 1950's.

The Asaf Jah collection is full of evocative and exemplary variety of diamonds, of unique shapes, cuts and colours. The unusual golden shade of the diamonds in the necklaces, show - fine gradation of colour, the outstanding Briolette diamond and the uniquely faceted beads are reflected in some of the necklaces mentioned in this treatise.

Kanthi Marvareed Kanval Almas Mai Padak is part of the 5th schedule of the Nizam's Jewellery Trust. One of the most important necklaces in the collection corroborates to a group of six pearl buttons, set similarly with a diamond at the centre was made during the same time to be worn with this necklace.

The necklace crafted with artistry  is centered on a button pearl that has a diamond in the middle, old - cut diamonds surround it; below is placed two faceted diamond beads suspending a magnificent Brilolette diamond pendant. The end is rather dramatic with button pearls alternately placed with diamond centre and surrounds, suspending diamond beads and old cut diamonds graded to pear shaped pearls, attached at the end with a western style clasp. Made for Mahboob Ali Pasha In the late 19th Century, the gems are all claw set and open back, this design element is European in origin. The quality of the diamonds specifies that the piece was commissioned either in Delhi or in a Bombay jewellery firm. The diamonds exude the characteristic luster of the Golconda produce. The large golden Briolette diamond is unmatched in quality and size, weighs nearly 130 carats; the pair of diamond beads composed on top of the Briolette is golden too and weighs 20 Carats each. The perfect round beads are drilled with great perfection through the centre. A diamond bead of 20 carats is rounded by a rough stone of 60 carats. Graded diamonds are placed on either side, ranging in weight from 22 Carats to 5 Carats. The total weight of these gems is estimated to be 150 carats. The intensity of the golden hue in the diamonds gradually gets lighter towards the end. The graded button pearls too are gradually reduced in size.

Kanthi Almas Kanval, from the first schedule part 1, of the supplemental Jewellery Trust. The necklace is crafted of diamonds set in gold, identified to be of late 19th-20th Century, length is 18.5 cm, width is 16.5 cm and the weight is 128 gram. The Kanthi is set with diamonds in a lace pattern with a lineup of motifs. Round and oval diamonds are positioned centrally. Arrangement of intricate hanging leads to a pear shaped diamond dropped from the center, adapting to a single row of diamonds till the clasp, finished with a rectangular diamond, set in it. In one of the photographs Mir Osman Ali Khan is seen wearing the necklace. Detailed necklaces of such kind were in vogue in the Victorian era in England. Specialists attribute the crafting of this piece to the year 1870. The cut diamonds weigh 150 carats. The gems are claw-set in an open back style, that allows the light to move in, bringing alive the stone with an inner glow.

Since the seal of the manufacturer is absent it is not easy to establish the firm that crafted it. Indian jewellery firms could have created this piece. Mahboob Ali Pasha had employed a European jeweller in his court; He created the jewellery commissioned to him, in Hyderabad, culling from the European idiom and unset gems available in the Asaf Jah treasury. Even though the design was European this piece being crafted in gold and not in platinum is indicative of the fact that it was created in India.

In all probabilities the piece is a product of a creative collaboration between the European and the Indian jeweler. The Indian jeweler could have handled the insertion of irregular stones in the necklace. The perfectly balanced necklace is actually created by seven large diamonds of varying shapes and sizes in the central scroll.

The essential form of this piece is similar to another diamond necklace but the detail in the design differs. The crafting style bears a resemblance to a diamond studded watch chain in the collection.

Kanthi Marvareed, a piece from the fourth schedule of the supplemental Jewellery trust, necklace of diamonds set with gold and an emerald drop, with pearls and emerald beads; enameled on the reverse, is of the 18th Century, Deccan style, the Length is of 43 cm, the height of the pendant including the emerald drop is of 8cm, the width is 4.6 cm and the weight is 88 gm.

Table- cut diamond is set in the front in an open work, cluster pendant, suspending an emerald bead. The reverse is enameled in green on a gold ground. The pendant is strung on a necklace of pearls and enameled beads with an enameled gold cap, the piece weighs 50 carats. A pendant similar to this has been found in the collection. These jewels were allocated to Osman Ali Khan's third wife, Ekbal Begum.

The use of fine monochrome enamel on the reverse is a feature of Royal Indian jewellery. The delicately created flower heads, the flowering plant form and the rich green colour makes the Deccan influence in design and appearance prominent.

Kanthi Almas Kanval Wa Parab, from the fifth schedule of the Nizam's Jewellery Trust, the Diamond necklace is set in gold, it reflects 19th Century Western Indian influence, the length is of 23.6 meters and weight is 357 grams. The necklace created with large and flat table cut diamonds is placed alternately with small diamonds finally graduating to smaller stones at the back attached with a western style clasp. Flat diamonds of big size and good quality are rather unusual. The simplicity of design is purposeful so as to provide a strong framework to hold the large gems in place. The centre is composed with a diamond with a pearl finial, suspending triangular diamond that is surrounded with small stones. The 12 large diamonds weighs 250 carats.

The stones are claw set, but unlike the previous examples they are foiled and in closed back, gold mounts. These are late 19th Century features that combine the traditional Indian practice of foiling to heighten the effect of faceted brilliance in flat stones; the claw setting creates a look of the stone being large. This necklace is a part of a suit set of a pair of bracelets and a set of buttons, reflecting similar design and workmanship.

In traditional Mughal style jewellery mostly flat diamonds were used majorly. These stones were available due to the mining methods employed in India. Crowbars were used to extricate the rocks which would break up further due to hard blows. This would fracture many of the stones. These stones known as 'Parabs' were used to create jewellery and not given up keeping in mind the value of the diamonds. The craft persons would create facets around the edges for increased brilliance and created new designs and settings for skillful use of the stones. In the 18th Century workshops such faceting was done in Lucknow and Benares. The diamonds in the necklaces and jewellery were all old cut or Mughal cut stones. Of the various forms and cuts, the most popularly known of the Mughal style diamonds are the 'Parab', they are cut straight and flat, while Kanval or Mukhlasi are cut flat with facets.

Indian lapidarists retained as much of the original stone as was possible. Thus precious stones in ancient India were hardly ever cut and faceted as they are now after western influence took over.

Images Courtesy: The Author

Tags: antique

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