The life of Anita Delgado (1890-1962) could have been written by the best of storytellers. Born in Malaga to a modest family of restaurateurs, the strikingly beautiful Anita took to the Madrid stage as a dancer in her late teens. During a performance she captured the heart of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala, a charismatic Indian prince visiting Spain to attend the marriage of Alfonso XIII to Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg. Fiercely protective at first, the Delgado family eventually allowed the prince to meet their daughter. Preserving Anita's reputation, the Maharaja proposed to the young dancer and carried her off to Paris, where she underwent months of training, emerging as a true Parisienne and Maharani of Kapurthala.
Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala was among the first Indian princes to patronise European jewellers, often supplying them with precious stones from his own treasury to be set in the latest western taste. The young Anita also developed a passion for jewels, noting in her memoirs, 'I acquired his love for those trinkets and little by little I started building a jewellery box with those lovely and valuable pieces'. Among the collection are two spectacular necklaces, one of rubies and diamonds with a delicate pendant set with a pendulum of diamond flowers, and another of emeralds and diamonds with a rock crystal pendant encrusted with diamonds in high Art Deco taste. A jewel of particular importance to the Maharani was a Belle Epoque emerald and diamond brooch designed to show off an extraordinary crescent-shaped emerald. This magnificent stone originally adorned the Maharaja's most prized elephant, until Anita admired and was given it on her nineteenth birthday as a reward for learning Urdu. Anita often wore this favourite piece as a forehead ornament at official events and when sitting for portraits.
Popularly known as the Spanish Rani, on her marriage Anita took the name Prem Kaur, 'Love of a prince'. Over time, the romantic story of her marriage, her candid charm and her great beauty won Anita international fame, and she found herself photographed and featured in social columns and on magazine covers, received by kings and statesmen all over the world. A Spanish journalist described Anita at the height of her career: 'This legendary princess is extraordinarily beautiful. Her teeth are like the rich pearl necklaces that lie across the delicious mounds of her chest. Her cleavage is deep and very white. Her hands, covered in precious stones, are like two ermine serpents, made to be caressed.'
Anita Delgado was a strong, philanthropic character who played a particularly important role in caring for the many Punjabi troops who fought on European fields in the First World War. Her marriage to the Maharaja ended after eighteen years, in 1925, and with a generous financial settlement she returned to Europe where she led a glamorous life in the beau monde. Her legendary jewels were passed to her only son, Ajit Singh (1908-1982), who sold these eight stylistically and historically significant pieces to the present vendor's family.
Dr. Amin Jaffer
International Director, Asian Art