Hyderabad was the largest princely state before it was merged into the Indian union in 1948 by Operation Polo. For nearly three centuries, Hyderabad State was ruled by the Nizams, who carved their kingdom in South India from the ruins of the Mughal Empire.
In seven generations, Hyderabad Nizams amassed such wealth that the last Nizam was titled as the richest man in the world by the Time magazine. The last and seventh ruler of Asaf Jah dynasty, Mir Osman Ali Khan, famous for his idiosyncrasies, was also known for his stunning collection of jewellery.
Stunning is too lame a word to describe the exquisite craftsmanship of the famed Nizam jewellery. The sheer magnificence of rubies, diamonds, pearls, sapphires and other precious stones beautifully embedded in gold and silver, showcase the glory of the erstwhile Nizam. The total worth of 173 jewellery pieces (a fraction acquired by Government of India) is worth Rs 5,000 crore!
The last Nizam Osman Ali Khan’s collection included 25,000 diamonds, pearls the size of quail eggs and the famed Jacob’s Diamond. A set of 22 Colombian emeralds weighing 413 carats was so flawless that no jeweller had the courage to set them. One necklace comprised 226 diamonds weighing nearly 150 carats.
It is said that Mir Osman Ali Khan used to handle his baubles as if they were marbles. The legendary Nizam’s Diamond weighed 400 carats and was said to be the second largest in the world. This diamond was lost and then discovered accidentally in 1870s near Shamshabad by a local goldsmith, buried in an earthen pot.
The Hyderabad Nizam’s jewellery collection is said to have more jewels than all the collections of princes in India put together. Their jewellery designs are a synthesis of Mughal, Deccani and European influences. They reflect the culture of a dynasty that had its roots in the Mughal court, ruled the Deccan and was a staunch ally of the British Empire.
The collection includes a number of Sarpenchs (bejewelled headgear), necklaces, waist-belts, buckles, bracelets, anklets, armlets, rings, pocket watches, buttons and cuff-links, to name but a few. All the jewels are flamboyant, yet, there are some pieces that stand out for their unique workmanship.
Most of the diamonds used in the jewellery came from the diamond mines in Golconda which were owned by the Nizams. This is why all the pieces invariably have diamonds that are either uncut or cut into magnificent pieces. They are made of gold, set with diamonds, emerald beads and cabochon rubies.
There is a special one named ‘Bachkana Sarpench’ which was made for the young prince, Mehabub Ali when he ascended the throne. The brilliance of Golconda diamonds set in this piece outshines any other piece. A solitaire set in gold, with five smaller diamonds on each side, has on its top an exquisite bird crafted with small diamonds for its plumage and a ruby as its eye. Interestingly, the bird holds a tiny ‘taveez’ (lucky charm) in its beak. A diamond belt was made especially for the Nizam by the House of Oscar Massi Pieres of France.
Jacob’s Diamond, is a fabulous piece, weighing 184.75 carats. This sparkling beauty is double the size of the Koh-i-Noor diamond and is said to be the seventh largest in the world. It was acquired by the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahabub Ali Pasha in 1891 from a Jewish trader, A.K. Jacob and hence the name. Mahboob Ali Khan was convinced it was cursed and wrapped it in a dirty rag and tucked it away in the drawer of his writing table.
The diamond was later found in the toe of an old slipper during the reign of the 7th Nizam, who had it mounted on gold filigree base. Mahboob Ai Khan may have been right: In 1972, the diamond became the centrepiece of a legal battle that lasted for 30 years and help contributed the downfall of its last owner Mahboob Ali Khan’s great grandson Mukarram Jah.
The last and seventh ruler of Asaf Jah dynasty, Mir Osman Ali Khan, died in 1967, and immediately a feud over his vast property ensued among his 149 descendants. The Government of India stepped in when things went out of control. However, much of the Nizam’s jewellery collection was already looted by the time. It is stated the aged Nizam never allowed any audit of his jewellery collection and ensured that the dust settled on his collection is not cleaned, so that the glitter never hits anyone’s eyes! #KhabarLive