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The Indian Jewels of the Nizams of Hyderabad

The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace
The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace

India is home to one of the greatest ancient civilizations - the people of the Indus Valley, and has a rich and long history. The Indus Valley is the birthplace of several religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Moreover, many things that we take for granted in the modern world emerged from India. Just some of these are the game of chess, rulers, buttons, shampoo, the Hindu-Arabic numerals, cataract surgery, plastic surgery and diamond mining. The long and colorful history of this region is connected with the stories of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful gems and jewelry in the world.

The Nizams were the rulers of Hyderabad, India from the early eighteenth century until the mid twentieth century, after the partition, when Hyderabad was fused with the rest of India. There were seven rulers throughout this time. The last Nizam was Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi Asaf Jah VII, who was portrayed by a February 1937 issue of TIME magazine as the richest man in the world. Not surprisingly, the Nizams had an unbelievable collection of jewels. The last Nizam gifted a diamond parure including the Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace to Queen Elizabeth II when she married Prince Philip. The necklace was designed by Cartier and contains 38 diamonds. The necklace was worn in February 2014 by the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton, to a National Portrait Gallery fundraising event.

The Rockefeller Sapphire
The Rockefeller Sapphire

The Rockefeller Sapphire, a Burmese blue sapphire of 62.02 carats belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad before it was acquired by John D. Rockefeller in 1934. This remarkable rectangular blue sapphire was worn as a brooch by Rockefeller's first and second wives before being sold several times by auction. First it was bought by Raphael Esmerian, then by his son Ralph, who had the gemstone repolished to its current weight of 62 carats and set into a platinum ring. It was sold again in 1986 to a private American gemstone collector, and then in 1988, it achieved a record $2.85 million at auction when it was repurchased by Ralph Esmerian and sold to another private owner where it is believed to remain today.

The priceless treasures in the private collection of the Nizam of Hyderabad were acquired by the Indian government in 1995. Following the acquisition, the Nizams' jewels were shown to the public for the first time in a 2001 Delhi exhibition. The collection is believed to be stored in the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India.

The Nizams' jewels are considered by many aficionados and auction houses to be the finest collection in the world. The collection has an estimated value of $2 billion and includes the 184.75 carat Jacob Diamond, which is thought to be worth around $85 million alone. This enormous diamond was apparently used as a paperweight by Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan, after he found it inside his father's slipper. It seems that the 6th Nizam was not overly impressed by the gigantic gem. The Jacob Diamond is thought to have been mined in Africa and gets its name from gemstone trader Alexander Malcolm Jacob, who sold it to the 6th Nizam. It was previously known as the Great White, or the Victoria Diamond.

Emerald Head Decoration
Emerald Head Decoration

Also among the Nizams' jewels are fabulous head decorations, known as aigrette or sarpech, from the word sar for head and pech for screw. Veritably dripping with fine gemstone drops, these contain remarkably fine and large colored precious stones and often feature paisley patterns. The sarpech were worn by the Nizams as turban ornaments. Just one of these contained more gemstones than most people could afford to acquire in an entire lifetime. Indeed, the drops alone of one of these head decorations contain as much as 300 carats of precious Colombian emeralds. These head decorations were a symbol of nobility and rule, so the very best gemstones were used to create them.

Other remarkable pieces in the Nizams' collection include a seven strand Basra pearl necklace, known as satlada (meaning seven strings) which contains approximately 465 pearls. The pearls are from the Persian Gulf and are named after the city of Basra, in modern day Iraq, which became an important place for pearl trade. Pearls from this region have been treasured for hundreds of years, for their perfectly spherical shape, silvery-white color and beautiful iridescence.

A Pair of the Nizams' Anklets (Paizeb)
A Pair of the Nizams' Anklets (Paizeb)

Also in the Nizams' jewels are gold anklets called paizeb (see left) which would have been worn by the women of the royal court and are made from hinged gold panels. The anklets feature pearls, rubies, emeralds and other precious materials such as diamonds from the Golconda (also spelled "Golkunda") mines, which were owned by the Nizams. Diamonds have been mined from the region for over 2000 years. These diamonds were the most highly prized for their transparency and purity, and the Golconda mines produced some of the most famous diamonds in the world, such as the Hope Diamond and the Koh-i-Noor.

The incredible Nizams' collection of jewels is a sight that should be on the wish list of gemstone and jewelry lovers all over the world. These fabulous jewels provide inspiration not only to jewelry designers and artists all over the world, but are also appreciated by members of the public. The Nizams' jewels are arguably the greatest collection in existence.

  • First Published: January-07-2015
  • Last Updated: January-24-2019
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