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The jewels of Nizam – A journey through the jewellery collection

India has a long, rich history with jewels, starting with the discovery of diamonds in the 4th century BC. Since then, ornaments have adorned both men and women alike. There is no comparison, though, to the tijoris of Hyderabad’s Nizams.

From the eighteenth century, until the mid twentieth century of their rule in India, there were seven Nizams in all. The collection began with a ring, set with an unusually large Alexandrite from Russia, believed to be a gift by Emperor Aurangzeb, to his able commander-in-chief in the Deccan, Mir Qamar-ud-din, who subsequently became the first Nizam of Hyderabad in 1724. The last Nizam, Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi Asaf Jah VII, was portrayed by the February issue of TIME magazine in 1937 as the richest man in the world. He gifted a diamond set including the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Necklace to Queen Elizabeth II when she married Prince Philip. The necklace was designed by Cartier and contains 38 diamonds.

A popular story involving the Nizam’s is about the Jacob Diamond. It was apparently used as a paperweight by Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan, after he found it inside his father’s slipper, who threw it there in a fit of rage, never to touch it again. Today, it stands as the fifth largest diamond in the world.  One of the most talked about pieces in the Nizams’ collection is the seven strand Basra pearl necklace, known as satlada (meaning seven strings) which contains approximately 465 pearls. These pearls are from the Persian Gulf and are named after the city of Basra, in modern day Iraq. Artisans in Hyderabad painstakingly put together the seven layers of pure white beauty and set a trend in pearl necklaces, famous in Hyderabad even today. Among the Nizams’ jewels are fabulous head decorations, known as sarpech. In traditional paisley motifs, these contain large coloured precious stones and fine gem drops all over. They were worn atop their turbans, and contained as much as 300 carats of precious Columbian emeralds.

Other ornaments include an armband, made of enamelled silver with openwork foliate design, a belt buckle,  showing exquisite Deccan craftsmanship with 146 diamonds weighing over 55 carats, in a kundan setting and gold anklets called paizeb which would have been worn by the women of the royal court and are made from hinged gold panels. Etched in the anklets are pearls, rubies, emeralds and diamonds in plenty.

The entire collection contained 173 pieces, including gold, silver and various gemstones and diamonds sourced from the Golconda mines (owned by the Nizams), Columbia, South Africa and Brazil. The first time that the public viewed the jewellery collection of the Nizam was in 2001, after they were seized by the Government of India and displayed at an exhibition in Delhi. The collection is now believed to be stored in the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India.