India’s diamonds and coloured stones have enticed the world for generations. Long before mines were discovered in Brazil and later Africa, India was the sole supplier of diamonds to the world and was also the world’s prominent gem bazaar. It is no surprise then that Indian gemstones have been a part of world history, decorating symbols of power in several countries across the globe.
Putting India’s long association with gems and jewellery into perspective is ‘India: Jewels that Enchanted the World’, the most comprehensive exhibition that chronicles the legacy of five hundred years of Indian jewellery, from the 17th century to the present day. It will be open to the public from April 12 to July 27, 2014 at the State Museums of Moscow Kremlin. The exhibition is a joint undertaking of the State Museums of Moscow Kremlin, headed by Dr. Elena Gagarina, and the Indo-Russian Jewellery Foundation, founded by diamond and jewellery connoisseur Alex Popov.
Curated by Ekaterina Shcherbina, chief curator along with Dr. Usha R. Balakrishnan, guest curator, the exhibition will take visitors on a journey that explores the splendours of India – mysterious amulets from the temples of Tamil Nadu, kundan meena from Rajasthan, whimsical Place Vendôme creations for Indian princes, as well as exciting jewellery by India’s leading contemporary designers.
More than 300 pieces of jewellery and jewelled objects, some that will be on display for the first time, have been generously loaned from over 30 museums, institutions and private collections from around the world.
Lenders to the exhibition include the al-Sabah Collection, the British Museum, the Doha Museum of Islamic Art, the Khalili Collection, the Musée Barbier- Mueller, and the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the world’s greatest jewellery houses such as Cartier, Chaumet, Mauboussin and Van Cleef & Arpels. The 21st century is represented by two of India’s leading jewellery houses – Munnu Kasliwal’s creations for The Gem Palace and Bhagat – both famous for their exquisite designs, fine craftsmanship and consummate glamour.
Dr. Elena Gagarina, director of the State Kremlin Museums, commented, “In April 2014, the Moscow Kremlin Museums will present a unique exhibition devoted to the art of Indian jewellery, presenting the traditions and development of Indian jewellery spanning more than four centuries, from the 17th to the 21st century.
“Originating in the southern subcontinent, these traditions developed during 400 years under Mughal rule. In the 19th century, influenced by European style jewellery, Indian royals commissioned Indian master jewellers with numerous jewellery projects, instructing them to learn from European master jewellers to emulate their techniques. At the same time, the most famous French jewellery houses, provided with diamonds and gemstones by their wealthy Indian clients, incorporated Indian design patterns into their own jewellery creations. In the upcoming exhibition, we wish to show the results of this process of ‘cross pollination’.” Alex Popov, chairman of the Indo- Russian Jewellery Foundation sheds more light on why jewels from India have a global relevance. “Its tremendous riches were always covered by a veil of secrecy – religious, spiritual, sensuous and often political. As a diamond professional I knew the origin of the Golconda stones, but I never realised that all significant diamonds before the 19th century were mined and polished in India! “Since the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperors, Indian gems have been used to decorate royal symbols of power in every single country of the world. From Cleopatra to Elizabeth Taylor, legendary women have worn and continue to wear priceless jewels that in one way or another have a connection to India.” Presented in two beautiful spaces, The Belfry and the One-Pillar Hall, the pieces are arranged thematically in sections relating to regions and periods, and according to typology and sources of inspiration. For many centuries, the jewels and gemstones of India have stunned the world and this exhibition explores the history of this rich heritage and the continuity of design, artistic sensibility and craftsmanship.”
In The Belfry hall, visitors will encounter jewellery that is characteristic of Southern India: monumental pieces crafted in gold with relief work and decorated with beautiful flowers, dancing peacocks and exquisite gems that showcase the distinctive forms and character of this region. Gold sheets with repoussé work are transformed into magnificent jewels with a profusion of decorative designs emphasised with gold twisted into wires and formed into tiny granules. (fig. 1). The jewels of the gods and goddesses are represented with splendid crowns sparkling with gems and hair ornaments that abound with imagery and floral motifs. With a variety of ornaments that cover the body from head to toe, there are some ornaments that are simply outstanding – a hair ornament studded with cabochon rubies surmounted with the coiled body of a snake (fig. 3); a monumental gold bridal necklace of the Chettiar community of Tamil Nadu made up of elaborately detailed clawlike pendants (fig. 4); earrings; and exquisite temple pendants featuring images of gods and goddesses set with specially cut carved rubies (fig. 5).
The next section is devoted to the jewelled splendour of the Mughal courts where gold, gems and enamel combine to reflect the artistic sensibilities of the Mughals who came as conquerors, ruled as emperors and, as connoisseurs, patronised art and architecture and flaunted their imperial power in the form of spectacular gems and jewels. Turban jewels, emblems of sovereignty, sparkle with table-cut diamonds , while rigid collar-necklaces studded with gems cascade down the neck . The armbands set with diamonds, exquisitely enamelled bangles with animal-head terminals and a tiny box, set with 103 carved emeralds illustrate the precision and genius of Mughal design and craftsmanship. A magnificent water pipe, made of gold and richly decorated with enamels reflects the sumptuousness of royal accoutrements.
The exhibition further highlights India’s magnificent stones in a special section devoted to the five great gems of Indian jewellery – diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and pearls. The highlights being an exceptional necklace comprising five outstandingly beautiful flat portrait diamonds and an exquisite baroque pearl pendant crafted in the image of the snake god . Also on display for the first time is a pair of spectacles fitted with filters of diamonds and emeralds.
The magnificent gem-set jewels created for the Nizams of Hyderabad epitomise the opulence of the Mughal maharajas. Elegant flower earrings, chokers studded with diamonds and decorated with exquisite enamelling and elaborate armbands provide a glimpse into the wealth and artistry of the Nizam’s court. The concluding section in the Belfry features the creations of Munnu Kasliwal for The Gem Palace. Remaining faithful to the ancient heritage of India, Munnu’s jewels are grand, exotic and eclectic. They include an entire suite of wedding jewels comprising a necklace, a headdress and a pair of earrings, all set with rose-cut diamonds and pearls.
The second hall illustrates the symbiosis between the European jewellery houses and India and the cross-cultural influences that occurred between Europe and India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The grands joailliers such as Cartier, Chaumet, Mauboussin, Mellerio and Van Cleef & Arpels all turned to India for precious stones and inspiration. Sapphires, emeralds and rubies carved into flowers and leaves became an integral part of Cartier’s “Tutti Frutti” style. A luxurious wristwatch features a table-cut emerald dial glass complementing the bracelet set with carved multicolour gems. The maharajas being among their principal clients, they created an extraordinary genre of jewels combining Indian colours, motifs and forms with European elegance and techniques. On display, are Cartier’s creations for their most esteemed client, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, that consisted of an entire range of jewels as well as a selection of original drawings. Cartier often incorporated carved Mughal emeralds into their jewellery and the beautiful necklace with three important Mughal emeralds, diamonds and sapphires embodies the idiom of the 1920s. Chaumet’s drawings for the Indore Pear diamonds for Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar of Indore and their elegant pearl tassel creations illustrate the Indian influence on their designers. A stunning clip set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds by Van Cleef & Arpels transforms an Indian arm jewel into a turban ornament and Mellerio’s exquisite peacock aigrette set with diamonds and enamelled in blue and green once adorned the turban of the dashingly handsome Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala.
The section concludes with the sophisticated creations of Viren Bhagat that are Mughal inspired, minutely detailed and exceptionally chic. Bhagat, the premier haute-joaillier of India, designs jewels that have a personality of their own – classical yet contemporary and ancient gems in modern settings. A stunning ‘Swag’ necklace centres on a magnificent pear-shaped Golconda diamond that is strung on six rows of lustrous, perfectly matched natural pearls. The piece de résistance from Bhagat’s âtelier is a kalgi – a modern interpretation of a classical Mughal turban jewel. At the centre is an exquisite antique heart-shaped emerald carved with a lily flower in full bloom surmounted with diamond lotus flower buds and a tapering stem set with baguette diamonds.
‘India: Jewels that Enchanted the World’ celebrates five hundred years of exceptional design and outstanding craftsmanship: a tapestry of fairy tales, stories of royal rivalries and intrigues, all told against a background of colourful fabrics, and the smells and sounds of India’s bazaars. Through the display of exquisite jewels and jewelled objects, it conjures up the beauty and refinement of Indian taste that has enchanted the world for thousands of years.