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THE PATIALA NECKLACE
Bhupinder Singh was the Maharaja of Patiala, a princely state in British India. He ascended the throne in November 1900 and reigned till 1938. Maharaja Bhupinder Singh was extremely active in the public realm of affairs and had several accomplishments to his credit, including being the Chancellor of the Indian Chambers of Prince, leading the Indian States Delegation in the Round Table Conference held in London. He was also an ace cricket player and captained the cricket team on their England tour in 1911. Bhupinder Singh led a life less ordinary, and his opulent lifestyle was a reflection of it. He owned several Rolls Royce, aircraft, and exquisite and rare pieces of jewellery. One extravagant piece of jewellery he got custom-made from Cartier, the French luxury conglomerate was the Patiala Necklace.
In the 1920s, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had summoned the head of the Cartier Paris Salesmen to update his family heirlooms. The collection included diamonds in white, yellow, brown, with greenish and pink tints, red rubies, green emeralds, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. It took around three years for Cartier to turn the precious jewels into an impressive collection of jewellery consisting of anklets, armlets, hath phool, amongst others. However, the masterpiece amongst the collection was undoubtedly the “Patiala Necklace”. Cartier had even sought Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s permission to put the exquisite necklace on display before sending it off to India, thereby garnering immense accolades for its beautiful and skilled craftsmanship.
The Patiala Necklace consisted of five rows of platinum chains and a neck collar. It was encrusted with 2930 diamonds and several Burmese rubies. The centrepiece of the extravagant necklace included the DeBeers Diamond, which was reputed to be the seventh-largest cut diamond and the second-largest faceted yellow diamond in the world. The Patiala Necklace was worn by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, and after his time it was inherited by his son and heir Maharaja Yadavindra Singh. The necklace was however not destined to remain in the family’s possession for long, as in 1948, a major controversy broke out when the necklace went missing under mysterious circumstances after it was worn for the last time by Maharaja Yadavindra Singh.
What is interesting about the necklace is the way the necklace disappeared and reappeared under equally inexplicable situations. After being listed as missing for over 3 decades, the DeBeers diamond reappeared sans the necklace in 1982 at the Sotheby Geneva’s auction. The diamond however was unable to achieve its undisclosed reserve bid. Subsequently, a decade later in 1998, another part of the necklace was retrieved by a Cartier associate from a second-hand jewellery shop in London. The necklace had most of its diamonds missing. Ultimately, Cartier bought the skeleton of the Patiala Necklace and took on the project of restoring it by replacing the missing precious stones with replicas. The restoration project took around four years to complete.
The story of the Patiala Necklace was featured in a documentary film that premiered on Discovery Channel. It was aired as part of the “Discover India” series and captured the stories of three generations of Patiala’s Royal Family from Maharaja Bhupinder Singh to Maharaja Yadavindra Singh and then Capt. Amarinder Singh. One of the granddaughters of Bhupinder Singh who is a jeweller based in California was involved in the exhibit where the recreated neckpiece was put on display. The exhibit was held in the Asian Art Museum and was called “Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts.”