A Famous Royal Diamond Heads to Auction

One of the most celebrated royal diamonds, the Arcot II, heads to auction at Christie's on June 19 as part of the dazzling Al Thani Qatari royal collection.

A Famous Royal Diamond Heads to Auction

Christie's Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence auction on June 19 is arguably one of the most extravagant sales of jewelry to ever enter the auction room. With over 350 lots glittering with enormous diamonds, emeralds, rubies, natural pearls and more, the auction showcases the rich splendor of the Mughal Empire and India's Golden Age. The collection comes from the Al-Thani family, the Qatari royal family, and proceeds will benefit the Al Thani Foundation. One of the major highlights of the opulent collection is the Arcot II, one of a pair of diamonds that has a legendary history of ownership including the British royal family and Harry Winston.

The Arcot II. Image: Christie's
The Arcot II. Image: Christie's

Extracted from the Golconda mine in India, where some of the most famous diamonds including the Hope Diamond and the Koh I Noor diamond in the Royal Collection were mined, the Arcot diamonds were originally owned by Muhammad Khan Wallajah, the Nawab of Arcot, an Indian viceroy. He collaborated with the British East India Company, paying them to defend his territory from other Indian kingdoms. As a gift of thanks to his British protectors, he presented Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of King George III, with five diamonds in 1777.

Left: Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, Nawab of Arcot, George Willison, 1777. Right: Portrait of Queen Charlotte, Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1768
Left: Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, Nawab of Arcot, George Willison, 1777. Right: Portrait of Queen Charlotte, Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1768

Upon Queen Charlotte's death, she willed the diamonds to her children, but her son George IV, responsible for the jewels, sold them to the crown's royal jeweler. In 1837, two of the diamonds, referred to as Arcot I (33 carats) and II (23 carats), were purchased at auction by Robert Grosvenor, First Marquess of Westminster, who gave them as a present to his wife. They remained within the Grosvenor family for over a century and and were subsequently reset into a tiara in 1930. A year later, Cecil Beaton photographed Loelia, the third wife of Hugh Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster, wearing the tiara studded with the two Arcot diamonds. In 1953, the Duke's fourth wife wore the tiara to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, wearing the Westminster Halo Tiara, Cecil Beaton, 1931. Image: Royal Jewels of the World
Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, wearing the Westminster Halo Tiara, Cecil Beaton, 1931. Image: Royal Jewels of the World

In 1959, the Grosvenors sold the tiara at auction for 110,000 pounds (about $3 million today) to Harry Winston who removed the two Arcot stones. In 1960, Arcot II was purchased by socialite Baroness Stefania Von Kories Zu Geotzen, who had a penchant for fine jewelry. In fact, in the 1980s, she was accused of being involved in a jewelry heist at the Ritz Hotel in Paris after a couple was mugged in their suite and $4 million worth of jewelry was stolen.

The Arcot II later sold to QIPCO (a Qatari holding company) for the Al Thani royal family. Its larger twin, Arcot I, was acquired by Van Cleef & Arpels and set into a necklace, selling in 1993 to a Saudi diamond collector for almost 1 million pounds (about $2 million today). Today, the Arcot II has been recut to weigh 17 carats and is estimated to achieve between $2-4 million at auction.

The Al Thani collection of exhibit at the Doge's Palace, Venice. Courtesy Al Thani Collection
The Al Thani collection of exhibit at the Doge's Palace, Venice. Courtesy Al Thani Collection

In addition to this impressive diamond, the auction has some seriously lavish jewels. The 290-lot Al Thani collection has toured worldwide, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Doge's Palace in Venice.

A Belle Epoque Diamond Devant-de-Corsage Brooch, Cartier. Image: Christie's
A Belle Epoque Diamond Devant-de-Corsage Brooch, Cartier. Image: Christie's

Highlights include ornate jewelry by Jacques Cartier, who visited India in 1911 and was commissioned by Indian royalty to create truly exquisite pieces with their crown jewels. These baubles often combined elements of Mughal opulence and Art Deco styles from Paris. The top lot is a diamond studded corsage that was commissioned by Solomon Barlato Joel, the head of a South African diamond mine, and boasts 34- and 23-carat diamonds.

The Patiala ruby choker: an Art Deco ruby, diamond and natural pearl choker necklace, Cartier, 1931.
The Patiala ruby choker: an Art Deco ruby, diamond and natural pearl choker necklace, Cartier, 1931.

Another Cartier treasure is a ruby and pearl choker that was originally part of an enormous ruby, diamond and pearl necklace ordered by Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala (1891-1938), who was known for his indulgent lifestyle.

"The Nizams of Hyderabad Sarpech": An antique diamond, spinel, pearl and enamel sarpech. Image: Christie's
"The Nizams of Hyderabad Sarpech": An antique diamond, spinel, pearl and enamel sarpech. Image: Christie's

Also on offer will be a selection of turban headpieces called sarpechs (translating from Hindi to "head feather"), which were worn by Indian royals and became increasingly extravagant after 1857 when Queen Victoria because the Empress of India and crowns were outlawed. They were often bejeweled with priceless rubies, diamonds, emeralds and more to signify Indian royalty and wealth.

A Belle Epoque Diamond Jigha. Image: Christie's
A Belle Epoque Diamond Jigha. Image: Christie's

This diamond jigha turban ornament from the early 20th century attached with a snowy white plume incorporated designs of the European Belle Epoque to fit the attire of Indian royals.

An enamelled and gem set model of a parrot. Image: Christie's
An enamelled and gem set model of a parrot. Image: Christie's

Also incredible are the detailed enameled and gem works, such as this parrot figurine, hookahs and dagger hilts. Rich in color and incredibly crafted, many of these works were owned by the Nizams of Hyderabad, the Indian monarchy formed in 1724 as part of the Mughal Empire before its dissolution in the mid-20th century.

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