The Amazing Jewels of The Nawab of Hyderabad
by Ms Nandita Ray
The Jewels belonging to the Royal family of Hyderabad is a fantastic collection of ornaments, loose precious stones, especially emeralds and amazing variety of artifacts. The collection of jewels is one of the most expensive in the world. In 1992 this collection was bought over by the government of India from the Nizam’s family. In 2001 it was displayed to the public for the first time. This exhibition took place in Delhi where all the 173 pieces were displayed. The Jewels have inspired many famous creations by famous designers like Cartier.
The Jewels belonging to the Royal family of Hyderabad is a fantastic collection of ornaments, loose precious stones, especially emeralds and amazing variety of artifacts. The collection of jewels is one of the most expensive in the world. In 1992 this collection was bought over by the government of India from the Nizam’s family. In 2001 it was displayed to the public for the first time. This exhibition took place in Delhi where all the 173 pieces were displayed. The Jewels have inspired many famous creations by famous designers like Cartier. And why not? Noted jewelry expert and craftsman D. Gazdar called them, ‘specimens of a lost art and further stressed, ‘finest collection of Eastern jewelry in the world”. While the world other comment comes from equally famous gemstone expert and trader H. Rosenthal of Paris, ‘were quite simply, out of this world”. He was talking about the Nizams loose and uncut gems.
The Nizams of Hyderabad, ruled from 1724 till 1948. When India gained independence the prevailing Nizam Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jha VII acceded to the new Government of India. Their famous jewelry collection which formed a part of their enormous wealth and prestige and was built over the period that they ruled was bought over by the Indian Government at a paltry sum of 2.18 millions. It was and still is valued more than that. This purchase was as a result of the debts and taxes owed by the Nizam’s to the government of India. Today the jewels are locked up in the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai.The Nizam who was once considered the richest man in the world also lost most of his fortune to legal wrangles between family members. The Time magazine called the Nizam the richest man in the world. Hyderabad once the richest princely state of India built its wealth on trade of gold, diamonds and pearls. The streets of ‘Pathargatti’ facilitated the passage of huge quantities of diamonds and pearls. Though diamonds like Hope, Regent, and Kohinoor have been mined from the Golconda mines Hyderabad is called the city of Pearls.
They follow a mixture of Muslim and Indian craftsmanship with a distinct leaning towards the Southern ‘Deccani’ workmanship acquired from the ‘Vijaynagar’ Kingdom. Gold and silver work embedded with uncut diamonds and edged with silver ‘kundan’ or just gold and silver work with diamonds and tear drop emeralds with enameled work on the back. Intricate Mughal designs or lacy web like designs or the traditional Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka or ‘Tamilnadu’ influence is widely evident in these heavy ornaments. It’s also a mixture of western influence and indigenous style.The collection consists of rare pieces of untold value and history. Many of the jewels were stored in huge crates to cardboard shoe boxes. There are photographs of the 7th ‘Nizam’ and his many wives with huge chunky ornaments which are all diamond encrusted. There are 30 cabinets each filled with kilos of gold and diamond jewelry, diamond being the widely used stone by the Nizams, since most of them came from the Golconda mines, which has been the only supplier to the world till the beginning of the eighteenth century. A royal injunction compelled the miners to donate the best stones to the Nizam. Most of the diamonds are flawless However it is believed that the Nizam purchased rubies from Burma. Emeralds are the next favorite stone to be used by the Nizam and as suggested green being the color of the Muslims, it has been widely used. Most emeralds are in their natural uncut form. They are king sized tear drop in shaped and came all the way from Bolivia.
The pearls came all the way from Gulf of ‘Mannar’ in Ceylon and Basra in Arabian Sea coast. The use of ‘Navratan’, the nine stones representing the nine planets is basically Hindu in origin but was a favorite with the Nizams. It is believed that the entire collection of Pearls in the Nizam’s collective collection could fill up an Olympic size swimming pool.
The uncut Jacob Diamond, the size of a duck’s egg, is one of the seven biggest diamonds in the world. It weighs 184.75 carats and was once used as a paper weight by the Nizam. It is considered a ‘non-violent’ diamond since it has changed hands only twice. It was bought in 1891 and possibly mined in 1867 ago from the mining giant country Africa. It is believed that the Italian born diamond dealer sold the diamond to ‘Meheboob’ Ali Pasha, the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad in 1891. It is also believed that this transaction led to legal problem and disputes and criminal proceedings and the Nizam had to appear before a commission. This blatant act of calling a Ruler before a commission angered and disgusted the Nizam so much that he kept the diamond as a pebble. In fact it was discovered by his son, the 7th ‘nizam’ in his slippers. This diamond is much larger than the Kohinoor and is known as Imperial Diamond or Great White diamond or Victoria diamond. It is a colorless stone and does not belong to any particular class because not a single hint of yellow nor any impurities like nitrogen are present. It glows bluish green in the dark. It is the 8th largest diamond in D color in rectangular cushion shape in the universe. It is not evenly centered and one side of the girdle is flat. The finished gem has 58 facets and measures 39.5mm long, 29.25 mm wide and 22.5mm deep.
A seven strand pearl necklace strung with 150 large and 230 small pearls. It has two diamond pendants attached to it. The lustrous pearls are from Basra. Another satlada pearl necklace has 465 in it.
A pair of bracelets with 270 diamonds studded in it is one of the many bracelets and arm lets that have adorned the Nizams and their wives. Heavy and set with huge uncut diamonds called Polki diamonds with enamel work and lined with silver edging.
Emeralds weighing 414.25 carats, some are uncut and most of them un mounted. There are 22 unset pieces of emeralds and their collected value is the most expensive and weigh a couple of thousands carats and are in various shapes and sizes and very ornamental in appearance.
There is a diamond studded belt made by Oscar Massi Pieres, the French designer. This diamond belt carries a total 640 carats in diamond weight. Another belt, ceremonial weighs 1.5 grams and totally covered with diamonds. These belts which formed a part of their ceremonial attire were called patta tilai. The buckles resemble south Indian hair ornaments. There is a belt buckle which has 146 stones.
There are numerous rings, brooches, buttons, studded swords, gold biscuits, anklets, cufflinks, and nose rings, watch chains, which are heavily jeweled and intricately decorated. A pair of Burmese rubies earrings set with diamonds takes your breath away. The rubies are big and glowing like fire while the cool diamonds showers its myriad hues. The diamonds are from the Golconda mines. These diamonds like the other were probably a part of the Nazrana given to the Nizam for an audience.
A pendant studded with a 200 carat emerald drop weighing 225 carats. Head gear and head gear ornaments have a special place in this collection since all the Nizams wore these ornaments on their head gear. Plumes of pearls or a spray of diamonds and emeralds or crests of navratan are some of the strikingly elaborate and exquisite pieces in serrated design. Sarpech, as these were called are also shaped like enameled birds or feathers covered with uncut diamonds or mixed with rubies or emeralds.
The Nizam of Hyderabad’s well celebrated Diamond parure presented to the Queen of England on her durbar celebrations.
An Alexandrite ring gifted by Auranzeb to one of the Nizams in 1700, set in gold is full of untold history. It was a personal gift to the nizam who was his commander in chief then called Mir Qamaruddin late father Jung and Arif Jah 1st Nizam of Hyderabad. This ring was Roman in origin with a superior quality Alexandrite. It has the ability to change color from emerald green in natural light to bluish red in artificial light.
A double strand diamond necklace came with the annexation of the Bijapur kingdom. Necklaces of the Nizams and wives are large and chunky. Made of gold and encrusted with gems of different colors, emeralds and rubies and diamonds and some were embedded with navratans, the nine precious gems. Some of the necklaces weighed a kilo each. Some had serrated edges laced with a web like motif while others are edged with drop pearls or emeralds. Some following the Deccani style have enameled work on the reverse. There is also in the possession the Historic crown of rubies, which was a gift from the King of Persia, Shah Abbas., presented to the Nizam of Hyderabad Asaf Jah.
The Nizam of Hyderabad, the last Official Ruler , Fath Jang Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan Asaf Jah VII was the richest man in the 1940’s, having a fortune estimated around 2 billion$. Forbes magazine, named him the Fifth on “All Time Wealthiest” list. He had an annual income of $10,000,000.The Nizam personally carried the key to his hidden vaults for 50 long years. Bundles of different shapes and sizes remain lying around indicating the careless manner in which the jewels were stored.
The famous Salarjung Museum which also displays some of the fantastic collection of the Nizam was constructed and the product of one man- Yusuf Ali Salar Jung, the Prime Minister to the Nizam.
Mukkhar Jah, the eight Nizam lives in a two room apartment in Turkey.