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Elongated baguette, rectangular and square-cut diamonds, inner circumference 43.0 cm, circa 1954, unsigned

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Keith Penton
Keith Penton

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Lot Essay

Cf. R. Keswani, Shinde Jewels, New York, 2004, p. 39 for a series of ink and watercolour renderings of diamond scroll necklaces, one of which is near-identical to the necklace in question, p. 77 for the plate caption describing these sketches as executed by A.V. Shinde for Nanubhai Jewelers in 1954, and p. 54 for a photograph of the Maharaja of Gwalior together with his wife, the Maharani, who wears a baguette-cut diamond necklace very similar to the one here illustrated that was purchased from Nanubhai Jewelers.

Ambaji Venkateshwara Shinde, born in Goa in 1917, began his journey into the world of design at the age of seventeen when he attended the JJ School of Arts in Bombay, graduating in 1937 with a degree in textile design. His talents were soon recognised by Nanubhai Sagar, manager at Narauttam Bhau Jhaveri, one of the most prominent jewellery salons in Bombay, and Shinde was promptly taken on as a jewellery designer for the firm at only 20 years old.

In 1941 Sagar left Narauttam Bhau Jhaveri to set up his own jewellery venture, taking the dynamic young designer with him. In time, and with the help of Shinde, Nanubhai gained the prestigious status of official court jeweller to rulers such as the Maharajas of Gwalior, Palanpur, Travancore, Bhavnagar and His Imperial Highness the Emperor of Ethiopia, amongst others.

In 1947 the age of the Maharajas came to an end with the dissolution of India as a British colony. Widespread distaste for the immeasurable wealth of the rulers compared with that of its constituents instigated a wave of important jewels being sold discreetly, disassembled and reimagined in a manner more sympathetic to modern tastes and intended for an international clientele.

In her book entitled Shinde Jewels, Reema Keswani describes Shinde being presented with an impressive collection of diamonds from which he may well have designed the baguette-cut diamond necklaces as illustrated here and on page 39 of her book:

‘An opportunity to demonstrate his versatility and mastery came in 1953. Nanubhai had purchased a collection of royal antique Indian objets d’art and jewellery set with exceptionally large polki, or table-cut diamonds - the average stone was more than an inch and a half in length. It was clear from the size, quality, and quantity of diamonds that the collection had come from a princely family. […] The tablet-shaped diamonds were ideally suited to being refashioned into an equally rare collection of oversize baguette-cut diamonds, shaped like batons. A number of suites […] were created from this collection, two of which were purchased by the Maharaja of Gwalior and one by Harry Winston.’

It was in 1955, when Harry Winston visited Nanubhai’s to purchase a third jewel from the baguette-cut diamond collection, that Mr Winston and Shinde met for the first time and seven years later, in 1962, Winston had formally hired him. By 1966 Shinde was appointed as lead design atelier and it was not until four decades later that he finally retired from Winston’s employment.

During the course of his career Shinde designed jewels for some of India’s most prominent rulers, including the Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda, as well as the Begum Aga Khan and royal houses throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Whilst under the aegis of Harry Winston, he produced pieces for King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, Imelda Marcos, Sharon Stone, Madonna and Gywneth Paltrow and some notable jewels such as the ‘Star of Sierra Leone’ brooch and the ‘Etoile du Désert’ diamond.

Despite his illustrious reputation amongst industry insiders and cognoscenti, Shinde’s talents and influence remain, to this day, largely unrecognised outside the jewellery world. His creative legacy was arguably the most important and influential contribution to Harry Winston’s design history, cementing the classic Winston aesthetic of gemstones seemingly floating in mid-air with a very minimum amount of metal mounting visible.

More information about the genesis of this necklace has come to light since the catalogue was sent to print and it seems that the original idea of using large extraordinarily long baguette cut diamonds was first conceptualised by Nanubhai Jhaveri who trained and worked closely with his designer Ambaji Shinde for 23 years. Shinde translated Nanubhai’s concept into a series of beautiful working designs with 10 to 12 variants of such necklaces eventually created. The two were great friends, Shinde remaining loyal to Nanubhai Jhaveri and his family, commenting that there were only two chapters in his life – Nanubhai and Winston.

Excerpted from Shinde Jewels by Reema Keswani.

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