Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence collection makes history in New York

Spanning over 500 years of history, the collection of Indian jewels and jewelled objects sells for $109.3 million

Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence

After a global tour that saw thousands of people flocking to Christie’s salerooms, a specially designed New York exhibition, and a 12-hour auction presided over by five auctioneers, the Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence  collection totalled $109,271,875 / £87,138,656 in New York — the highest for any auction of Indian art and Mughal objects, and the second highest for a private jewellery collection. 

Almost 400 lots were offered, ranging from legendary Golconda diamonds to dazzling coloured stones, jewelled objects used in the royal courts to swords and daggers once owned by Indian rulers. Bidders came from 45 countries, and included a significant number of institutions; full results are listed below.

‘Beginning with the sale announcement in April, there has been an overwhelming response to this exceptional collection,’ said Rahul Kadakia, International Head of Jewellery at Christie’s, after the auction. ‘Momentum has been building from the international tour to the New York exhibition culminating with the excitement witnessed in the saleroom.’

That excitement was evident from the very start as lots breezed past their high estimates: an antique diamond Rivière necklace made $2,145,000; an antique emerald bead and pearl necklace sold for $855,000; a diamond and emerald bead brooch by Bhagat achieved $399,000; a five-strand natural pearl and diamond necklace, also by Bhagat, fetched $1,695,000; a carved emerald with two interchangeable emerald and diamond mountings by Cartier realised $735,000; and a natural pearl and diamond necklace was acquired for $1,095,000. 

After 150 lots, 10 had sold for in excess of $1 million. A world auction record was set for an Indian / Mughal huqqa, or water pipe at $759,000, and a folio from The Late Shah Jahan Album narrowly missed out on another when it made $615,000.

The collection featured a number of outstanding Golconda diamonds, including the Mirror of Paradise and the Arcot II. The latter, which has a storied past that includes the Nawab of Arcot and Queen Elizabeth II, sold for £3,375,000. The former, a rectangular-cut diamond of 52.58 carats, achieved $6,517,500. Later, an extremely rare, large portrait-cut diamond of 20.22 carats fetched $1,095,000.

As afternoon gave way to evening in New York, the bidding continued apace. An enamelled and gem-set model of a parrot, one of the main attractions on the international tour stops, soared past its high estimate to achieve $1,035,000; an elephant brooch by JAR made more than five times its low estimate at $555,000; a Belle Époque diamond jigha  sold for $1,815,000; a stunning gem-set mace realised $747,000, more than 10 times its low estimate; and an antique emerald sarpech  by Cartier went for $915,000. 

One of many star lots, an Art Deco emerald belt buckle by Cartier drew applause from the room when it sold for $1,545,000 — more than three times the low estimate. The buckle was designed for Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley, who wore it to the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. 

Not long afterwards, ‘The Patiala Ruby Choker’, one of the most impressive jewels from the collaboration between the Maharaja of Patiala and Cartier, fetched $975,000. 

As symbols of military prowess and political authority, Indian arms and armour used in royal processions produced fierce bidding. A ceremonial sword of the Nizam of Hyderabad made $1,935,000, a new world auction record for an Indian sword, followed immediately by the Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace, which sold for the same price.

Lot 277 produced the highest price of the sale — a Belle Époque devant-de-corsage by Cartier, bought for $10,603,500. Made-to-order in 1912 for Solomon Barnato Joel, who made his fortune in the South African diamond mines, it is a stunning example of the delicate ‘Lily-of-the-Valley’ setting used by Cartier at the time.

Composed of approximately 950,000 ‘Basra pearls’, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and coloured glass beads, ‘The Baroda Pearl Canopy’ almost trebled its low estimate to make $2,235,000. Moments later, an antique imperial spinel necklace did likewise, selling for $3,015,000.

As the auction moved into its final stages, an exquisite ibex-headed carved jade cup from circa 1660-1680 realised $1,095,000; an antique imperial spinel and pearl necklace sold for $1,035,000; and a pair of emerald, natural pearl, ruby and diamond clips by Cartier achieved $1,695,000. 

The penultimate lot of the sale, The Shah Jahan Dagger, sold for $3,375,000, establishing the record price for an Indian jade object and the record for a piece with Shah Jahan provenance.

When the final lot — The ‘Taj Mahal Emerald’ brooch by Cartier — sold for $1,815,000, the marathon auction was 93 per cent sold by lot and 92 per cent sold by value.

‘This incredible collection traced the history of Mughal jewels and objects to present day,’ said William Robinson, International Head of World Art at Christie’s. ‘From exceptional daggers worn by the elite nobles and royal families of India to important jewels inspired by Indian tradition and architecture, the auction represented a significant cultural moment for Indian and Islamic art. We are delighted with the strong results witnessed across the category.’

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These objects were offered from The Al Thani Collection. From next year, works of art from this encyclopedic collection will be shown at a new museum space in Paris. In addition to new acquisitions, sale proceeds will support ongoing initiatives of The Al Thani Collection Foundation which extend from exhibitions, publications and lectures to sponsorships of projects at museums around the world.

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