about our jewelry

It is difficult for the casual observer to truly understand the signifiance and importance of jewelry to the people of India. This site is dedicated to the jewelry that most epitomizes the splendor and magnificence of the historically important Mughal Empire. There is no other place on Earth so richly endowed with a natural abundance of gemstones or where the love of jewelry is so deeply and intrinsically a part of the culture.

The symbolic, magical, and metaphysical importance of jewelry to Maharajas and common persons alike has no parallel in the West. Jewelry was never worn casually, but adorned the body with much importance and meaning.

The jewelry presented here is extremely similar in style and make to what might have been worn in the courts of Maharajas. In many instances, the same families and guilds that produced jewelry for the Maharajas and their courts have made the pieces you see here today. The jewelry on this site is not antique; it is modern. However, it has been created by the same techniques and designs as traditional Indian jewelry and therefore is remarkably similar to pieces dated to a time when extravagance and splendor meant everything.

I personally select every piece presented here, which I judge on numerous criteria.

First is quality. The gems must be of fine quality. All gems are guaranteed to be as described and to be authentic and natural. The piece must be well constructed. In the marketplace, a range of quality exists. If a piece is remarkable for design, style or presence, a lesser quality of gem can be accepted. I include this in my descriptions and accurately summarize strong and weak points so as not to deceive the purchaser.

Second is wearability. There is not much call for turban ornaments. There is a great deal of work available that is awkwardly constructed or ill-conceived. I endeavor to select pieces that will work in today’s more casual world. I want my customers to be able to wear this jewelry on a variety of occasions and in a Western context. I make every effort to make sure the clasps are functioning, the ear posts are the correct size, and the scale is appropriate.

Third is style. I believe that the jewelry presented here can be transformational. By adorning yourself with one of these works of art your presence will be enhanced. You will inherit the legacy of the Maharani, and you will become fabulous, elevated and empowered. back to top

 

sourcing

I have purchased all the jewelry on this site from a wide variety of Indian vendors. I meet annually or semi-annually with design and manufacturing houses to view their wares. I work directly with manufacturers in Delhi, Jaipur and Udipur, avoiding the middleman to keep my prices low and my selection the best. I am particular and examine each piece thoroughly, selecting only those that meet my high standards. I gather up the best from each vendor and present it to you in one place. Purchasing in small lots is time consuming and difficult, and it has taken decades to assemble the contacts and visual acuity.

In many instances these jewelry houses have existed for centuries, and the magnificent pieces worn by the Maharajas were actually made in the same location and by the same families as the pieces presented here. India is an extremely traditional culture with businesses, skills and employment handed down within families for numerous generations. The great-grandfather of the skilled artisan who made a necklace that you can buy here might have made a necklace for a discriminating Maharaja.

I also like some of the modern pieces not directly associated with the Maharajas, including the “radar” earrings, or black diamond drops. These are all made in India, and in my mind would have delighted any Maharaja. They are distinctly Indian, and therefore included on this site. I focus on the Maharaja jewelry style, but you will also find pieces with modern influence and a more restrained design sense, which also come from an Indian design tradition. I am proud to include them here.

It is the hunt for the best pieces that I find the most gratifying. I love the extravagance of this jewelry and am hopelessly drawn to it with all its eccentricities and beauty. back to top

 

materials

GOLD AND SILVER
All gold is 18 kt or higher. It is often presented to me as 22 kt and I believe most of it is, however there may be slight variations in content. Therefore, I will guarantee that the gold is at least 18 kt (75% pure), but it is likely closer to 22 kt. Some settings are done in silver, which is traditional for diamonds. In the time of the Maharajas, the only available white metal was silver. Platinum was not widely available, and white gold as an alloy had not yet been invented. Silver was most popular and thereby more traditional.

DIAMONDS
India was the world’s only source of diamonds for more than 2,000 years until they were discovered in Brazil in 1729. This means that every diamond used in Europe and the Americas prior to 1729 originated in India. The most famous and productive area is the Gloconda mine in Hyderabad, which is known for extremely fine white diamonds. These are associated with volcanic activity in the Deccan Plateau, but they have not produced diamonds for more than a century. Diamonds exported from India have been traced to the 4th century BC.

Diamonds are highly prized in Mughal jewelry. Most pieces are either diamond centric or employ them as accents. Maharajas owned many of history's most famous diamonds and jewels. Mughals prized stones for their size and reflective nature. They were intended to be viewed by subjects while the Maharaja was seated on a throne, and small diamonds just would not do. Their primary interest was not in brilliance or refraction, but with impact.The Mughals cut and polished diamonds for the largest possible size, while the Western cut favored clarity and proportion.

The most common names for such diamonds are rose cuts or macles. Macles are triangular, often twinned, and flattish with a large table. Typically the table is polished flat. Rose cuts have facets on the table that meet at a point in the center of the top surface. As with macles, rose cuts tend to be flat in depth.

The most famous Indian diamond from the Gloconda mine is the Koh-i-Nur diamond weighing 186 cts. It is believed to have been owned by the first Mughal emperor, Akbar. It is also known to have been worn by Shah Jahan. In 1849, the diamond was sent to England and was recut into a 105 ct stone with more European proportions.

GEMSTONES
All gemstones on this site are guaranteed to be natural and as described. Enhancements, including cutting and polishing, are assumed. Emeralds are assumed to be oiled or treated to hide cracks and enhance color. It is virtually impossible to purchase an emerald that has not been treated in this fashion, despite what a salesperson may say.

Emeralds during the early Mughal era came primarialy from Egypt. However, compared to later finds, the material from Egypt is of low quality due to internal inclusions and pale color. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spaniards brought fabulous emeralds back from Colombia and other parts of the new world where mining in regions around Muzo, Colombia, had already been worked by the native populations. Emeralds were highly desired by Maharajas, and many were elaborately carved to remove inclusions, and also because the crystal organization did not produce planes of weakness and therefore facilitated carving.

Sapphires were found in India and Sri Lanka in great abundance. The darkest red sapphires are classified as rubies, and the finest were found not far away in Myramar. Rubies are often confused with the gemstone spinel, although they have no minerologic connection. Sapphires were the astrological gemstone associated with Saturn, and therefore had dark consequences. They could only be worn under the correct circumstances and were uncommon, thus we tend to not to see an abundance of sapphires in Mughal jewelry. Many of the gemstones from Sri Lanka and the subcontinent are found in placer deposits.They are found in streams carrying gem-bearing sands that are released after the seasonal monsoon. This is true for diamonds as well as the numerous other sought-after gemstones.

PEARLS
Pearls were extremely rare and far more valuable during the time of the Maharajas before they were first cultured by Mikimoto in 1916. Pearls are perhaps the first gemstone that ancient people enjoyed unenhanced by polishing or shaping. They are delightful straight out of the shell. The primary pearl sources were off the islands near Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, and off the west coast of Sri Lanka. Oysters were harvested by the millions, but only a few contained the prize of a natural pearl. Of those, most were small and flawed. A large, flawless pearl was extremely rare, and to make a necklace of matched flawless pearls could take generations. Pearls are now cultured in meticulously maintained wild oyster beds. All pearls offered on this site are cultured. back to top

 

fabricating techniques

KUNDAN
Kundan-style jewelry is ideal for setting irregular diamonds. In this technique, a fillet of 24 kt pure gold foil is forced between the sides of the stones. A thin overlapping layer of gold traps the stones along the edges. A trained goldsmith applies the foil and applies pressure with a burnisher such that a molecular bond is achieved as the layers of foil are applied to each other to create the desired thickness or strength. This is done at room temperature. The high temperatures necessary for soldering or enameling are not required for this ancient process. Additionally, a silver reflective foil is placed behind the stone to assist with the reflection of light and to give the diamond or gemstone more fire. There is no other place in the world where Kundan setting is more widely practiced than it is in India.

FOIL BEHIND STONES
Because Indians prefer their stones to be as bright as possible, they often place reflective foil behind their set stones. With any translucent stone, this makes the stone more lively as light is reflected back through the stone intensifying the color and brilliance. This is particularly true of diamonds, as they typically are thin crystals that are not able to be cut with more ideal proportions. This treatment in no way diminishes the value of the gem, but is an enhancement using the natural properties of light refraction and spectral dispersion.

ENAMEL Minakari
Many of these pieces have delicate, colorful enamel backs, as well as accents on the front. This style of enamel is typically referred to as champlevé. In most cases, a sharp graver or chisel is used to remove a tiny bit of gold, leaving a depression that is filled with glass powder. The artists typically work in geometric or floral motifs, or a combination thereof. Different hues of enamel powder are delicately placed in these depressions and fired to a temperature above 1500 degrees F.

WORKSHOPS
Methods of fabrication have changed little during the last 400 years. Artisans are still stratified in a guild system and tend to practice only one type of jewelry technique. There are shops that focus specifically on enamel, stone setting or casting. The larger shops will have all processes done in-house, but the artisans tend to practice only their particular skill sets. Additionally, the tools, methods and procedures have changed little over the centuries. An artist's workbench in 1000AD would look remarkably similar to an artist’s workbench in 1600, which in turn was not markedly different from one seen today. back to top