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Objects of desire: Mughal-era jewels at Sotheby’s auction

Under the hammer were various rare gems, including 17th-century Mughal spectacles original from India.

Under the hammer were various rare gems, including 17th-century Mughal spectacles original from India.

Published Oct 30, 2021

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It’s always fun to watch a live auction of some of the finest things made. It’s a voyeuristic feeling, almost like you belong. But you don’t, especially when some items have a starting bid of £1.1 million (about R22.6m).

That was the case earlier this week when Sotheby’s held an auction that featured some rare luxurious items, titled “Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets”.

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Under the hammer were various rare gems, including 17th-century Mughal spectacles originally from India.

One pair, "Gate of Paradise", features emerald lenses. The second, "Halo of Light", has diamond lenses. Both of them are in diamond-mounted frames.

The glasses were commissioned by an unknown 17th century Mughal prince. The precious stone lenses are believed to boost spiritual enlightenment.

The emerald spectacles, Sotheby’s said, were in reference to the Islamic association of green with that of paradise, salvation and eternity. Each lens was cut into a teardrop shape about 20mm wide, 30mm long and 2.95mm thick, sourced from the same stone.

"There are so many stories behind these spectacles. The emeralds came all the way from Colombia in the 17th century, through Portuguese merchant ships to the Mughal empire, the Mughals absolutely loved gemstones," said Alexandra Roy, a Sotheby’s specialist in the arts of the Islamic world.

"The diamonds came from the Golconda mines (in India) and at the Mughal court, these were cleaved from stones which originally would have weighed two to three hundred carats… They were re-fashioned in their current 19th century spectacle-like fashion."

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The spectacles, Sotheby's website says, have been the subject of a full technical investigation into the gemstones and the way in which they were sliced.

“One of the main methods of identification for emeralds lies in the types of inclusions visible within the stones itself. The richness of their saturation and depth of their green hue is also an indicator of their origin.”

Even more interesting, the diamond lenses are said to have been fashioned from a single diamond of “octahedral morphology” which is thought to have weighed 200 carats.

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This article was published in Saturday Insider, Oct 30, 2021

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