Maharajas! The word maharaja, literally 'great king', conjures up a vision of splendor and magnificence. These princely rulers of India played an important role within a social and historical context and were patrons of the arts, both in India and Europe. That resulted in magnificent objects symbolic of royal status, power and identity.
According to an account by Alain Boucheron on his family business in the book 'The Master Jeweler' that was cited in the Times:
"The flamboyant Maharaja ... arrived at Boucheron's in 1927 accompanied by a retinue of 40 servants all wearing pink turbans, his 20 favorite dancing girls and, most important of all, six caskets filled with 7,571 diamonds, 1432 emerals, sapphires, rubies and pearls of incomparable beauty."
Here's a look at the opulent world of the maharajas and their extraordinarily rich culture through their jewels.
We have tried our best to referance images to their creators and original sources. Please contact us if you know the source of images that are not referenced.
Maharajah of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh's Patiala Necklace.
Weighing almost a 1000 carats, the Patiala necklace was made for the Maharajah in 1928 by Cartier, the bib-like Art Deco necklace featured five rows of diamond - encrusted platinum chains and over-sized gems.
It included as its centerpiece the famous De Beers diamond, a cushion-cut pale yellow diamond weighing 234.69 carats.
Maharajah of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh, wearing the famous Patiala Necklace. 1930s.
Jacques Cartier with Indian gemstone merchants, 1911, Cartier Archives.
Since his first trip to India, in 1911, Jacques Cartier (1884 - 1942) had become familiar with the extravagant tastes of the maharajas.
Fabulously rich and passionate about precious stones, the Indian princes stopped at nothing to satisfy their perpetual appetite for jewels.
Jacques Cartier presented the Maharajah with a dazzling project. Sadly, the Maharajah of Nawanagar had little time to wear the "finest cascade of colored diamonds in the World".
He died in 1933, two years after the necklace was delivered.
Ceremonial Necklace for Maharajah of Nawanagar
Drawing of the ceremonial necklace for the Maharajah of Nawanagar, 1931, London Cartier Archives.
Baroda Diamond Necklace
The famous Baroda Diamond Necklace.
This magnificent ceremonial necklace with diamonds and emeralds was worn by the Maharajah of Baroda, India in the 1860s.
It was said to have been broken up in the 1940s to provide stones for anklets for the new Maharani of Baroda, Sita Devi.
From the treasury of Baroda - a magnificent three-tiered diamond necklace, shown here worn by the Maharani of Baroda, Sita Devi in 1948.
Khande Roe, Gaekwar of Baroda, had this necklace made to display two important diamonds - the 128.48 carat Star of the South (fancy light pinkish-brown) and the 78.5 carat English desden below it.
The Pears of Indore
Bernard Boutet de Monvel, The Maharajah of Indore, Oil on Canvas, 1933.
85 x 85 cm
Sold in 2016 for 2,499,000 euros.
Image Courtesy: Sotheby's.
Boutet de Monvel's depiction of the Oxford-educated Maharajah of Indore. In this six-foot, stunningly ehteral composition from 1933, the young man, dressed in traditoinal costume, sits on a white throne against a pale background.
The Maharajah is wearing two magnificent 47-carat pear shaped diamonds around his neck.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Sing Bahadur of Alwar, born 1882.
Besides his traditional Indian ornaments, he wears the star insignia of the Indian orders granted to him by the British, then considered a part of the royal regalia.
Maharajah Sayaiji-Rao, Gaekwar, Baroda. 1902.
Wearing his famous seven row diamond necklace and other diamond ornaments. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, virtually every Indian Maharaja commissioned state photographs of themselves wearing their most important jewelry as a symbol of their power and position.
A cross cultural exchange. Miniature painting. National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India. 1902.
Interpreted by an Indian Artist (unknown), King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, depicted as the King-Emperor and Queen-Empress of India.
Bejeweled Porttrait of Maharaja Pratap Singh (1764-1803).
Maharajah Pratap Singh came to the throne in the princely state of Jaipur in 1778 at the age of 14, and about 15 years before his portrait was painted. He was a poet and patron of the arts known for commissioning the famous 'Palace of the Winds' in Jaipur.
At his court he maintained an atelier of about 50 painters, among whom was a Muslim master, Sahib Ram, to which this paintinf is attributed.