Rapaport Magazine

Mughal Magnificence

Encouraged by steady sales in the U.S., diamond manufacturers are hoping that demand at JCK Las Vegas will prove sufficient to drive a positive second half of the year.

By Ettagale Blauer

Once upon a time, only a Brahman or maharaja could own a necklace fitted with five magnificent Golconda diamonds such as the stones found in the Mughal Mirror diamond necklace. Today, the necklace is available to any commoner with some $20 million to spend. It is being marketed by Bonham’s London as a private treaty sale, in which neither the selling price nor the buyer’s name is disclosed. Matthew Girling, chief executive officer (CEO) and international head of jewelry for Bonham’s, says most of the queries he has had to date have come from Indians, eager to buy back some of their remarkable jeweled history. Bonham’s has the exclusive right to sell the necklace and accepted the commission only after it was assured that the piece had been exported from India in accordance with Indian laws.

This unique piece, created some time in the early seventeenth century, comprises a center diamond weighing approximately 28 carats and four other stones, each weighing approximately 15 carats to 20 carats. Each diamond is set within a gold bezel that follows the irregular shape of the stone, and each suspends a carved Colombian emerald drop. The drops are believed to have been added some 200 years later. According to Katherine Prior, author of Maharajas’ Jewels, the center diamond is the largest table cut known to have survived. Bonham’s notes that the five diamonds have existed together in the same setting for centuries; although the setting is later than the diamonds, it, too, has a Mughal feel.

Examined within their mounts by John King, chief quality officer of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) laboratory in New York, the diamonds have never been unmounted. “These diamonds were considered to bring power from the gods because of their optical properties and their hardness. It is very rare to find large pieces of this shape,” he says. The stones are thought to have been either macles, which occur in thin segments, requiring very little polishing, or cleavages, which have a grain like wood, allowing them to be cleaved off the rough. These stones show no inclusions, says King. “We grade half a million diamonds over a carat per year. One one-hundredth of 1 percent would fall into this category.”

The polishing of these stones amazes the experts. Even under high magnification, King says, “We did not see any polishing lines. We don’t know how they got such a fine polish,” using seventeenth-century techniques.

Further, King adds, although “the fabled diamonds from India were usually type II — the benchmark for limpid, very clear diamonds — examination of these stones revealed a significant amount of nitrogen, proving they are type I. Most diamonds from Golconda that we have tested are type I.”

The diamonds are faceted around the edge. “The facets help protect the piece and do allow a little more light back into the stone,” King notes. No one knows how this necklace escaped the royal Indian rush to modernize their gems into nineteenth- and twentieth-century settings. Through wars and upheavals, through loss of power and wealth, most of the magnificent Mughal jewels were broken up, the stones re-cut to reflect modern tastes and cutting skills. It is nothing short of a miracle that this necklace survived, with these five amazing diamonds in their original setting.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2012. To subscribe click here.

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