One of the most important and valuable pieces of Mughal jewellery ever seen on the market is being offered for private sale at Bonhams. The early 17th century Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace, made up of five pendant diamonds with emerald drops has an asking price of US$20m.
In the 16th and 17th centuries (the height of the Mughal Empire), the prized, colourless rough diamonds discovered in the ancient Golconda mines in India were reserved for royalty and the Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace offered by Bonhams is an extraordinary example from this era. Indians had held these diamonds in high esteem for centuries, admiring their exceptional hardness and beauty of the crystal form. Golconda diamonds have a captivating luminosity and display a colour and degree of transparency that are unique.
At 28 carats, the central stone is the largest mirror or table-cut diamond known to survive, and the five diamonds (ranging from 16 to 28 carats) are the largest known matching set of table-cut diamonds from the Mughal 17th century. It is most likely that the diamonds belonged to a Mughal emperor. To both Mughal emperors and Indian maharajas, the quality and size of the gem were of paramount importance, and table-cut diamonds such as those offered by Bonhams, were valued for their clarity and size above all else.
At the time, gem-cutters only sought to remove areas with cracks and inclusions, so the shape of the rough gem determined the final outline of the polished stone. As a result, gems had an irregular and asymmetrical form as the cutter was striving for the maximum size possible.
Impressively, the five diamonds offered by Bonhams have existed together in the same setting for centuries and although the setting is later than the diamonds, the setting too has a Mughal feel. Weighing approximately 96 carats in total, the skilfully rendered table-cut diamonds were designed to emphasise the beauty of the stones without sacrificing their size. The 'table-cut' description refers to a thin diamond section with a flat top and bottom, where the diamonds have also been faceted around the edge. This faceting acts as a border around the irregular shape of the diamond, to produce a refractive brilliance. The GIA (Gemmological Institute of America) have speculated that the five near colourless diamonds were cut from the same crystal.
The Colombian emerald drops were added at a later date, probably late 18th/ early 19th century and are also of the very top quality, adding to the remarkable nature of the necklace.
The Mughal emperors were aesthetes and Shah Jahan's connoisseurship of gemstones was well known. Pendants such as the Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace were an important element of Mughal jewellery and were used as turban ornaments and armbands, displaying the most spectacular gems in the treasury as emblems of power.
With changing political regimes, tastes and fashions it is remarkable that the Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace has survived, even with its old setting intact. Many of India's royal pieces of jewellery were subjected to the 19th and early 20th century fashion for replacing and recycling old jewels with new, flamboyant Western settings or re-cutting into brilliant diamonds. And as the Mughal Empire weakened and collapsed, many of the royal jewel collections were dissipated or lost.
Seen in this context, the Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace is one of the most spectacular collections of Golconda diamonds to have survived destruction, and the gems firmly establish India as the pre-eminent source of great diamonds in the ancient world.
Matthew Girling, Bonhams CEO and International Head of Jewellery, comments, "We are honoured to offer the Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace for private sale. Having worked in the jewellery business for over thirty years, I have rarely come across such a masterpiece in terms of craftsmanship and survival. The presentation of the Mughal Mirror Diamond necklace, containing five extraordinarily well matched mirror diamonds, is causing great excitement in the world of jewellery scholars as well as potential buyers. This is a unique 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity to acquire something of eternal beauty, importance and lasting value."