Indian royal treasure at Bonhams

From bejewelled daggers to ruby fertility necklaces

The Duchess of Cambridge spent last week showing the Indian subcontinent the British regal sense of style, but for those who prefer the Indian version, Bonhams is holding an auction on April 19 containing a collection of jewels belonging to a UK-based Indian royal family.

“This is a real treasure trove, featuring an array of jewellery ranging from the ostentatious to the wonderfully subtle,” says Rukmani Kumari Rathore, specialist in Islamic and Indian art at Bonhams. “The jewels are magnificent examples of 19th-century Indian craftsmanship and form a stunning centrepiece at our Islamic and Indian sale. The collection has a fascinating provenance and this a rare opportunity to purchase an heirloom once owned by Indian royalty.”


Some quite spectacular pieces are going under the hammer, including a “manga malai” necklace (first picture), based on a mango garland – as the mango represents love and fertility in southern India. The manga malai would be worn by women on special occasions such as weddings, and be sported by temple dancers, who would dedicate their lives to deities in a manner similar to a marriage vow. Estimated at £50,000-£70,000, its mango-shaped segments are set with diamonds and rubies.

The family, who wish to remain anonymous, have owned these pieces for generations and there are other treasures among the jewels. Another of the highlights is a stunning jewel-encrusted dagger (second picture), estimated at £30,000-£50,000 and studded with gold, rubies and diamonds. The hilt is a rare example of Mughal manufacture and it probably comes from Rajasthan, the home of many royal workshops and enamel centres. The double-edged watered-steel blade is 17th-century Ottoman.

Anyone wishing to discover their inner maharajah might also be interested in a beautiful belt buckle (third picture) set with emeralds and diamonds on the front and enamelled in green on the back, estimated at £18,000-£25,000, or a beautiful armband (fourth picture) set with a central octagonal diamond flanked with diamond-set motifs on the front and fine-gold enamel scrolls on a dark green background on the back. That will set you back an estimated £8,000-£12,000 – but what price a princely treasure trove?


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