The Maharajas of India were some of the most outwardly extravagant royals in history. None more so than Sir Bhupinder Singh, maharaja of the self-governing princely state of Patalia. He was extremely wealthy and his fortune included a range of riches.
In 1925, he commissioned the House of Cartier to transform a trove of precious gems into items of jewellery. The Patiala Necklace would be the crowning jewel in this collection. Known as the Maharaja Patiala Necklace, the Cartier Patiala Necklace and the King of Patiala Necklace, it would become synonymous with luxury and extravagance. And, in 1948, it would go missing.
So what happened to this lost Cartier diamond necklace? Has it ever been found? And how much is the Patiala Necklace worth today? We’re uncovering all the facts, starting with how it came to be.
What is the History Behind the Patiala Necklace?
In the summer of 1925, the Maharaja of Patiala commissioned the House of Cartier to create jewellery from a collection of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and existing pieces. It took Cartier’s best craftsmen three years to create a collection fit for a king.
There were rings, bracelets, anklets, armlets and head ornaments. There were also traditional Indian jewels such as a sapphire, ruby, emerald and diamond nose ring – known as a nath – and a hathpul, or hand-flower, a bracelet worn on the back of the hand linking the wrist piece with rings on the fingers. However, the piece de résistance was what became known as the Maharaja Patiala Necklace.
What Was the Patiala Necklace?
The Cartier Patiala Necklace was made up of five chains or ladi and a neck collar. It was set with 2,930 diamonds. One of these was the world’s seventh-largest diamond, known as the De Beers Diamond, weighing 234.65 carats in its final setting. It remains the world’s largest cushion-cut yellow diamond and is roughly the size of a golf ball.
The platinum-mounted necklace bore seven other exceptionally large diamonds weighing between 18 and 73 carats as well as the finest Burmese rubies. All told it weighed over 1,000 carats.
The Collier de Patiala was presented to the maharaja in 1928. It is considered one of the most ostentatious pieces of jewellery ever created and the largest single commission Cartier ever made.
What Happened to the Patiala Necklace?
The Cartier Patiala Necklace was last seen in a 1946 photograph around the neck of the Maharaja’s son Yadavindra Singh. From there, the mystery begins. In 1948 it was reported missing from the maharaja’s royal treasury. So what happened to it?
A number of theories exist. Chief among these is that it was stolen by someone with access to the treasury. However, nobody has ever been reported as accused or tried for the crime. There is also the possibility of it being misplaced, although again there is no evidence of this.
Some believe the most likely fate of the lost Cartier diamond necklace was that it wasn’t lost at all. Rather it was sold at a precarious moment in history.
In 1947, just a year before the necklace was reported missing, India gained independence from British rule. Patiala, then a self-governing princely state of the British Indian Empire, was acceded into the newly independent Union of India. This change brought financial pressures to bear on all the maharajas and it has been posited that the King of Patiala Necklace was one of a number of assets liquidated to provide funds.
This theory postulates that this was done in secret in order to avoid embarrassment and to evade any questions about whether the item belonged to the royal family or to the state.
Whilst definitive answers have never been found, clues as to the fate of the Patiala Necklace have surfaced since its vanishing.
The Lost Cartier Diamond Necklace Found?
For thirty-four years there was no sign of the necklace. Then, in 1982, there was a development. The centrepiece of the necklace, the De Beers diamond, resurfaced at an auction house in Geneva. It is believed the bidding topped $3 million.
Sixteen years later in 1998, a Cartier associate by the name of Eric Nussbaum spotted part of the necklace in a second-hand shop in London. It was described as the “skeleton” of the necklace, shorn of most of the diamonds and rubies. Cartier ended up buying what was left of the Patiala Necklace and spent the next four years restoring it to its imperious best, replacing the missing stones with cubic zirconia and synthetic rubies. The location of the De Beers diamond remains unknown.
How Much Is The Patiala Necklace Worth Today?
While there is no definitive valuation, estimates of how much the original Cartier Patiala Necklace would have been worth today range from $30 to $50 million.