We uncover the royal inspiration behind the iconic Cartier Patiala necklace and Boucheron’s new high jewellery collection

Fit for a king, or a Maharaja, is the only way to describe one of the most expensive pieces of jewellery ever made.

Sir Bhupinder Singh, the former Maharaja (or ruler) of Patiala, is the tastemaker to trump all tastemakers and give King Louis XIV of Versailles a run for his money.

It was 1928 when the Indian royal arrived in Paris with 40 servants in tow, for whom 35 suites were booked at the Ritz. The news had spread that the king, notorious for his extravagant taste, was in town. Place Vendôme, with its many jewellery houses, was buzzing to see from whom he would make his purchase.

It turned out that his majesty’s sights were set upon Boucheron, where he was greeted by the son of Frédéric Boucheron, Louis. Together, the pair designed a whopping 149 pieces. Emerald and diamond collars, pearl necklaces, and belts made of precious materials were all created to capture the intricate genetics of Indian monarchical culture and style. 

Read more: Ever Wondered What Jewels Lie Behind The Qatari Royal Family Vault?

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Above The New Maharajahs high jewellery collection by Boucheron (Photo: Boucheron)
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In 2022, almost a century later, Boucheron pays homage to those creations by introducing the New Maharajahs collection. The pieces beautifully encapsulate the extravagance of ancient royalty but are still palatable to the 21st-century wearer, using precious materials such as white gold, diamonds, rock crystal, mother-of-pearl, pearls and cacholong.

The Birth of the Patiala Necklace

Famously, Bhupinder Singh’s love affair with European jewellery houses stretched far beyond Boucheron to Cartier in a story that somehow manages to dull the grandeur of his Place Vendôme commission. The Cartier archive reveals that the ceremonial Patiala Necklace was born from a trunk of jewels sent to their workshop in Paris. The Maharaja had handpicked jeweller Louis Cartier to craft a magical jewel that married influences from the East and West.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 06: The Patiala necklace, reconsrtucted by Cartier in 1925 on show at the V&A Museum for the opening of the Maharaja Exhibition on October 6, 2009 in London, England. The V&A has brought 250 objects together belonging to the Maharajas from over 200 years of rule.. (Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images)
Above Photo: Getty Images

The jewellery piece totalled 962.25 carats, and featured the seventh largest polished diamond in the world, the De Beers yellow diamond, which accounted for over 234 carats. And let’s not forget the other 2,900 diamonds that adorned five rows of platinum chains found on the necklace. It remains one of the most outstanding pieces of jewellery to ever be made and is estimated to be worth around US$30 million in today’s currency. 

Read more: How Indian Royalty Inspired Cartier To Push The Opulence Of Its High Jewellery Pieces

From the Maharaja to the Met Gala

The Maharaja’s name recently resurfaced in a bit of Internet controversy as multi-faceted influencer Emma Chamberlain donned his diamond collar at the 2022 Met Gala: Gilded Glamour. In a Vogue video, a team member presents tray after tray of jewels trimmed with the classic red and gold Cartier border, and the last piece to be presented is the Maharaja’s choker.

“It is one of the most intense but beautiful pieces of jewellery I’ve ever seen”, exclaimed Chamberlain. “During the Gilded Age, it was all about being extravagant, and I’ve never seen a more extravagant necklace”. Well, she’s not wrong. The necklace that Chamberlain was presented with was last seen paired with none other than the Patiala Necklace, which had gone mysteriously missing a few decades after its creation.

In case you missed it: Met Gala 2022: The Best Jewellery on the Red Carpet

There have been some sensationalised takes on how and why the necklace was last seen in 1948 and over 80 years later landed on the neck of the 20-year old American It-girl. A quick look into history will clear up any suspicions. In 1947, after India gained Independence from British rule, the royal houses were in financially choppy waters and looked to liquidate their easy-to-move assets.

This had to be handled sensitively for two reasons: it would have been embarrassing for royalty to be selling off their treasures, and there could have been legal implications from the government over what may or may not have been considered state property. The magnitude of the pieces means it would be near impossible to sell or pawn them in India, and they would have been easily recognisable. Instead, these pieces, including the Patiala Necklace, were likely dismantled and sold in Europe. 

The Maharaja’s Lasting Influence

The De Beers yellow diamond made its journey to Geneva where it was found at auction in 1982, as reported by the New York Times: “The diamond was shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1889 and was later purchased, it is said, by royalty. The stone, which resurfaced in Europe recently, is described by Sotheby's as having very few impurities for its size.”

Most of the remainder of the necklace ended up back at the start of its journey, with Cartier, only this time in London. Cartier detailed that the central and largest stones were missing, but conscious of the cultural and historical significance of the necklace, they worked for four years to restore the piece to its once immaculate condition.

Cartier called this as an “unprecedented adventure”. Of course, even Cartier couldn’t conjure up some of these irreplaceable gems, so cubic zirconium and synthetic rubies were used until such a time as the required stones were found. The location of the De Beers diamond remains undisclosed—and perhaps rightfully so. 

Although Indian monarchical families have since been stripped of their titles, this will certainly not be the last we hear, or see, of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh and his jewellery collection. 

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