This exhibition will present around 100 spectacular objects from or inspired by the jewellery traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Drawn from a single private collection, it will showcase magnificent precious stones of the kind collected by Mughal Emperors in the 17th century and exquisite objects used in royal ceremonies. It will reveal the influence of India on jewellery made by leading European houses in the early 20th century and display contemporary pieces with an Indian theme made by modern masters.
Highlights include an Indian turban jewel made for the Maharaja of Nawanagar set with large diamonds; magnificent unmounted precious stones including a Golconda diamond given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot, South India in 1767; Mughal jades such as a jade-hilted dagger that belonged to the 17th-century emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal; a jewelled gold tiger’s head finial from the throne of the famed Tipu Sultan of Mysore; pieces from the collections of the Nizams of Hyderabad who possessed legendary wealth; and renowned jewels from the early 20th century by Cartier. There will also be contemporary pieces made by JAR of Paris and Bhagat of Mumbai which combine Mughal inspiration and Art Deco influences.
The objects are drawn from the recently-formed Al Thani collection, notable for the quality and size of its precious stones, both unmounted and set in jewellery. It reflects India’s position over many centuries as an international market for precious stones, including diamonds from its famous Golconda mines, emeralds from South America, rubies from Burma, spinels from central Asia and sapphires from Sri Lanka. The Mughal emperors and their successors used objects made of luxury materials in their court rituals and the exhibition will highlight the techniques used by goldsmiths in the Indian subcontinent to make them.
Martin Roth, Director of the V&A said: “This is a fascinating insight into a great private collection that includes extraordinary precious stones, both unmounted and set into jewels. The exquisite quality and craftsmanship of many fine pieces from and inspired by India complement the V&A’s own South Asian collections and jewellery and will be a spectacular element of the Museum-wide India Festival this autumn.”
Nicholas Snowman, Chairman of Wartski said: “We are delighted to be sponsoring this magnificent exhibition at the V&A in this, the 150th year of the foundation of our company. Wartski and the V&A have a long history of shared scholarship, loans and gifts. This happy association was cemented at the 'Fabergé’ exhibition curated by my father, the firm’s chairman, Kenneth Snowman in 1977. Family connections with the V&A continued in 1988 when my wife, Margo Rouard-Snowman, co-curated ‘Avant Première’ and in 2002, when Geoffrey Munn, our Managing Director, presented the exhibition ‘Tiaras’.”
The exhibition will be arranged in sections exploring different elements of evolving styles and techniques. The Treasury will evoke the royal storehouses of the Mughal emperors in the late 16th- and early 17th-century, which held precious stones of spectacular size. The Court will showcase objects owned by famous rulers such as Shah Jahan, whose architectural commissions in the 17th century introduced a new decorative style which still influences Indian craftsmen and women to the present day. It also includes objects that would have been used in court ceremonies.
A section devoted to Enamel will explore the quality and appeal of the vivid colours of this technique, which from Mughal times was usually hidden from view on the back of ornaments set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. Newly commissioned films will explain Indian jewellery making techniques such as enamelling and ‘kundan’- the uniquely Indian style of setting precious stones in highly-refined gold. The Age of Transition will demonstrate the gradual influence of the West on Indian jewellery in the late 19th-and early 20th-centuries, particularly in Hyderabad under the Nizams. Open settings allowed light to shine through cut diamonds and emeralds, and European motifs appeared in traditional jewellery, such as a diamond-set platinum hair ornament designed to cover the long hair plait worn by most Indian women.
Modernity will introduce the transforming influence of India on jewellery design in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. The house of Cartier and individuals such as the Parisian designer Paul Iribe, reinterpreted traditional Indian forms in Art Deco style, and set Indian-cut emeralds next to sapphires in a startling new colour combination. The final section Contemporary Masters, will highlight the continuing influence of traditional Indian jewellery reinterpreted in completely modern idioms. The work of the Paris-based JAR echoes Mughal architectural features while Bhagat of Mumbai selects old-cut diamonds or sapphires as the centrepiece of new designs which often show the influence of Art Deco, inspired by India. An interview with this leading Indian contemporary jeweller will be the third of the films newly commissioned for the exhibition.