Some of the most remarkable and memorable jewels to appear at auction have had a provenance connected to the Princely states of India and the renowned house of Cartier. This magnificent ruby and diamond necklace exemplifies these two great associations with its sumptuousness, craftsmanship, quality and style, making it an outstandingly exciting piece for any jewellery connoisseur. It rivals some of the most important ruby and diamond necklaces sold at auction in recent years including the Empress Marie-Louise necklace from the Crown Jewels of France, the necklace from the estate of Vera Hue-Williams and the Belle Epoque ruby and diamond necklace that realised $1,375,000 at Christie's Superlative Jewels auction in May 1996.
The splendid necklace was commissioned from Cartier in 1937 by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar. He was the adopted son of the famous Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar, who before his death in 1933, was a passionate collector of jewels and one of the world's best cricket players, playing for England and Sussex between 1985 and 1912. India's inter-state cricketing prize, the Ranji Trophy, initiated in 1934 by Maharaja Bhupindra Singh of Patiala, was named after him.
In Roland Wild's 1934 biography of Maharaja Ranjitsinhji, he wrote '… London was in easy reach, and his box at Lord's often called him, there to play the host to scores of old cricketing friends. London, too, tempted him to continue increasing the value of the State jewels, and in the course of many years he laid the foundation of one of the world's greatest stores of modernised jewellery. He was expert in the study of pearls, and in devising means of beautifying old necklaces and settings. On accession, he had found that under the administrations of 1895 to 1904, and 1906, the easiest course had been taken to restore the State finances to health. All the State jewels that were not reverenced for their antiquity or history were sold, and the few treasures that were left were clumsily set and unattractive. The Jam Saheb himself loved jewellery, and would fondle precious stones with the touch of an artist. He began to pit his knowledge against the opinions of the experts. He already envisaged the possession by the State of the finest collection in India. It took twenty-three years to fulfil that ambition.'
When the young Digvijaysinhji succeeded the throne he inherited the fabulous Nawanagar State treasure. He maintained the close relationship with Jaques Cartier enjoyed by his father for twelve years and the firm continued to recreate jewels of the highest class. Indeed, in Wild's biography of Maharaja Ranjitsinhji, Jaques Cartier wrote an article entitled 'The Nawanagar Jewels'. On the subject of rubies Cartier wrote 'If there was one precious stone about which it was possible not to agree entirely with the late Maharaja it was regarding the best colour for rubies. He liked them with a tinge of purple and his early purchases reflected this taste, but later he changed somewhat his opinion and bought some stones of the pure crimson which keeps clear of purple'.
The rubies in this extraordinary necklace were supplied from the Royal treasury, Cartier supplied the diamonds, and the piece created to an original Cartier design - one of the more important jewels commissioned by Digvijaysinhji.
In the early 1950s the necklace was returned to Cartier and re-offered for sale to an exclusive and select clientele. The wife of one such client immediately fell in love with the piece and after the purchase, had it slightly altered from the original design to fit her slender neck in the shorter, prevailing fashion of the time while maintaining the geometric design and the originality of the Deco period.
Not only does this jewel have a captivating history but it is also special for another reason. One trend which was prevalent during the Art Deco period and which continues today is the rarity and scarcity of fabulous Burmese rubies. The 116 rubies in this piece, weighing over 170 carats, all originate from the famous Mogok mines of Burma, with their natural rich, deep red colour, bereft of any enhancement.