| Angie Harmon who presented the necklace in New York.
Mumbai, Jan. 19: The ping pong ball-sized De Beers in the centre is missing, the blood-red Burmese rubies have been ripped off but a magnificent diamond necklace that once belonged to an ancestor of Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has America’s glitterati on fire.
Crafted by Cartier for Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1928 with 2,930 diamonds and recreated in 1998 when all that remained were five platinum chains, the necklace wowed the rich and the fashionable in New York when actress Angie Harmon presented it at the unveiling ceremony.
On the last leg of its US road show after covering Chicago and San Francisco, the $20-million necklace is now making waves in the Cartier showroom in Palm Beach. “The response has been wonderful,” Cartier showroom manager Debra Sloane gushed. “In New York, we had a major unveiling, and people lined up outside the boutique to see it in the Fifth Avenue windows.”
The almost 1,000 carat bib-shaped necklace — which Cartier took three years to put together and which it claims is the largest ever made by it — was “mysteriously” discovered by a showroom representative in London in 1998 partially broken and with most of the gems missing. The fashion house immediately snapped it up and set about restoring the Art Deco period piece to its original glory.
As it stands now, the necklace does not have the rough-cut, pale yellow 234.69 carat De Beers that was inherited by the flashy maharaja. Armed with his treasure — believed to be the seventh largest in the world — two Burmese rubies and another large brown diamond, the maharaja is believed to have visited Cartier’s Paris outlet in 1925 and commissioned the necklace for himself.
The necklace was to have five rows of diamond-encrusted platinum chains dotted with giant gemstones. The De Beers was to be its centrepiece. The necklace looked so exquisite when it was ready that Cartier sought the maharajah’s permission to display it before sending it to India.
The maharajah --- renowned for his love of the good things, including women, jewels, food, travel and sport --- was often photographed wearing the necklace.
Cartier is believed to have restored its original look, though the piece has cubic zirconium stones for diamonds and synthetic rubies in place of the Burmese ones.
Cartier manager Sloane said the interest the necklace had aroused in the US was astounding. “The kind of people that have shown interest are people who love beautiful things and have an appreciation for the grandeur and history of this incredible necklace,” she said.
Asked if the fashion house had plans to extend its road show to India, she said: “No such luck. It (the necklace) will go back to the Cartier museum in Geneva.”
The order for the necklace was placed when the maharajah --- the Patiala royals were known for their immense wealth --- was on one of his fashion trips to London and Paris. In the 1920s, Indian princes were extremely popular abroad as they habitually splurged on Westley Richards guns, S.T. Dupont lighters and Rolls Royce cars.
Like most other royals of the time, Bhupinder Singh was acquisitive by nature. He had four wives and a harem of concubines. On his foreign trips, he used to travel with his entourage of dancing girls and servants. He ascended the throne in 1900 when he was only nine and died in 1938.
“I am told it is a beautiful piece of jewellery. I saw a photograph of the necklace when a team from Cartier’s came to see me for a film on it that they will be releasing in April,” said chief minister Amarinder.
Amarinder said the necklace was last seen in a painting of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh in 1938. “It disappeared sometime during 1939-40. Even my mother doesn’t remember it,” he added.
The chief minister said no member of the family knows how the necklace disappeared. “It somehow slipped out of our hands and is a mystery. All we know from various sources is that it had broken into pieces. While four pieces were recovered from various places, the fifth one has been reconstructed and is absolutely new,” he added.
Amarinder declined to comment on reports on the royal family laying claim to the restored necklace. “All that I can say is that the team from Cartier’s spent five days with me to garner information on the necklace.”