LONDON - The Art of Imperial India sale coming up on 8 October is full of jewelled treasures showcasing the wealth and opulence of the Indian courts from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. One of the rarest pieces available in the sale is a stunning torque necklace. Of circular form, it derives its name from the Hindi word hansuli – meaning ‘collar bone.’ The front is set with diamonds and rubies against a green enamelled background, fringed with hanging emeralds and a border of miniature pearls. Although this façade is lavishly expressive, it is the reverse that marks the piece as a true rarity. Whereas lavish enamelled designs and backgrounds can be witnessed on a number of Indian courtly objects, craftsmen usually favoured polychrome motifs dominated by a bright red colour. The simplicity of green against white, with a repeating floral design, is extremely unusual and shows off the quality of the craftsmanship at its most refined. The predominant use of green, characterized by a metallic sheen, points to a Mughal-influence and most probably hails from a courtly workshop in Bikaner.
An outstanding Maharani torque necklace (hasli), Bikaner, Rajasthan, late 19th century (front and back). Estimate £250,000–300,000.
Another example of luxurious simplicity is an important diamond-set and enamelled gold parade necklace (khanti) from North India, dating to circa 1850-75. Exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London during their exhibition Diamonds: The World’s Most Dazzling Exhibition in 2006, this piece is striking for its comprehensively diamond-studded surface which contrasts with its rich, polychrome enamelled design of floral petals on the reverse.
An important diamond-set and enamelled gold parade necklace (Khanti), North India, circa 1850-75 (front and back). Estimate £80,000–100,000.
In different ways, these two necklaces demonstrate the importance and appreciation for sumptuous jewelled works in the Indian courts, a tradition stemming from multiple centuries and continuing to the present day.
Alexandra Roy is a specialist in the Middle East department, Sotheby’s London.