In the 17th century, an exquisitely refined gold and jade dagger was created for Shah Jahan, the emperor to whom we owe the Taj Mahal. Two centuries later, it was acquired by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the eponymous code.
This is now one of an incredible 150 men's jewels that were borrowed from the royal family of Qatar to create the exhibition "East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from The Al Thani Collection", which takes place in San Francisco.
The Al Thani collection is a collection of Indian artwork and jewellery, the oldest of which date back to the time of the Mughal Empire. The collection was started by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family. To bring this collection together, he enlisted the help of Amin Jaffer, International Director for Asian Art at Christie's. In just 2 years, he managed to collect no less than 400 coins.
The oldest men's jewellery in the collection dates from 1526, when the Mughal Empire was created, a Muslim dynasty from Central Asia that invaded northern India in the sixteenth century. At the time, Europeans had already established trading posts in India. The Mughals were fascinated by the European technology used for jewellery, especially the techniques of cutting precious stones. They were also passionate about exotic stones unknown until then, such as emeralds from Colombia.
But the Europeans were also impressed by the wealth of the Mughals. The Emperor Jahangir's hoard, for example, is said to have consisted at its peak of over 5 million carats of uncut diamonds. A 16th century Flemish diamond trader, Jacques de Coutre, is said to have established that Jahangir possessed a valuable heritage greater than that of all European monarchies combined.
The Mughals and Europeans then forged close ties, according to the curator of the exhibition, Martin Chapman.
“Western jewelers and goldsmiths worked for the Mughal court. The trends and technique of European houses exerted a great influence on the tastes of Indian princes, ” he said.
“ Towards the end of the empire, it was in Europe that the Maharajas traveled to stock up on jewelry for men. This inspired the fusion between trends and tastes prevailing in India and Europe, which reached its peak in the style of jewelry of the 20th century. »
The question of gender is addressed by the exhibition. Almost all the jewels you can admire have been designed for men, and worn by them.
“We seem to think in the West that only women can wear jewelry,” Chapman said. "But in India it is the men, and especially the men of power, who overturn this received idea with their extravagant and complex jewellery: men's bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets rush. Without forgetting the essential, the turban adorned with precious stones. »
If you travel to San Francisco during the winter, you can admire this exhibition of men's jewelry until February 24, 2019.