Kingships may have long gone but the shine of royal jewels endure. With the business of art logging an upswing over the last five years, period jewellery is now back in popular reckoning, especially in India, dubbed the cradle of traditional jewellery.
"I think period jewellery has become increasingly collectible in the last 10 years. Great examples of period jewellery are now considered fine examples of art with prices that are multiples of the intrinsic value of the jewels," David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby's Jewellery in Europe and the Middle East, told IANS.
Sotheby's Thursday hosted a lecture in the capital on its autumn 2008 sales of magnificent jewels to be held in Hong Kong, Geneva and New York respectively on Oct 7, Nov 19 and Dec 9.
The highlights of the sale are the 102.56 carat Fancy Vivid Yellow Diamonds estimated at $8-9 million, the Coloured Diamond Butterfly Brooch estimated at $4-5 million and a pair of ruby and diamond earrings by James de Givenchy for Taffin estimated at $4-4.5 million.
Also on sale are a Kashmir sapphire and diamond broach dated 1900 estimated at $1.8- $2.2 million, a rare emerald, pearl and diamond gulaband (choker) from Rajasthan from the 18-19th century and a pair of cabochon emerald and diamond pendant earrings from the last quarter of the 19th century estimated at $200,000-$300,000.
According to Sotheby's, the choker from Rajasthan and the cabochon emerald and diamond pendant earrings of central Asian origin have interesting histories.
"The choker made by jewellers Van Cleef and Arpels in 18-carat gold and inlaid with precious stones was purchased by Prince Johannes von Thurn and Taxis for his wife Gloria during one of their visits to the country. The prince was in love with India and its ancient culture," Bennet said.
A provenance of breathtaking emeralds belonged to the Grand Duchess Vladimir, who married Tsar Alexander II's son, the Grand Duke Vladimir, whose collection of jewellery nearly equalled that of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.
Explaining the nature of period jewellery available in India, Bennett said they were mostly of two types - the heavy wedding embellishments and the traditional Indian styles.
"But there has been a cross flow of jewels and styles. Designs and jewels from India have influenced styles across Europe." Bennett said.
The expert, who has authored a successful book, "Understanding Jewellery", feels that there are three major trends driving the sale of heritage jewellery across the world.
"Primarily, the focus is on quality. Buyers want nothing but the best and with a rich history. Moreover, all period jewellery has multiple prices because their supply is limited. Buyers need to be educated about period jewellery and we have been trying to project our showcase to potential buyers through brochures, catalogues and exhibition dos," Bennett said.
According to him, diamond is still the most sought-after stone in period jewellery auctions. Bennett has sold at least four rare diamonds in auctions personally for $16.2 million, $12.8 million and $11.6 million.
Amin Jaffer, the international jewellery expert at Christie's and author of the popular handbook of period jewellery - "Made For Maharajas: A Design Diary of Princely India", says his auction house wrested 57 percent market share in niche and period jewellery in 2007. The business, according to him, is growing.
"This year alone, we sold an important diamond corsage belonging to Empress Eugenie, wife of Nepolean III of France. Last year, we auctioned two strings of the famed Baroda Pearls and a collection of magnificent jewels, which were the former property of Anita Delgado, the fifth wife of the Maharaja Jagjit Singh of Kapurthala," Jaffer told IANS in an e-mail interview from London.
Jaffer feels that since the bulk of period jewellery is privately owned, it is difficult to see the trend in prices except for within a sale or a museum context.
"Heritage jewellery from India has been attracting the attention of the West since the 1920s and the 1930s, when leading firms like Cartier started retailing antique Indian jewellery as well as incorporating elements of old jewellery in their latest designs," Jaffer said.
According to him, more recently, traditional Indian and Mughal jewellery have enjoyed a revival among collectors internationally as is evident from the number of publications as well as of exhibitions such as Treasury of the World, which featured the Al-Sabah collection of Mughal jewels.
Christie's, said Jaffer, has been trying to spread the taste of Indian jewels through a series of workshops in auction hotspots around the globe over the last decade.
The fact that the market for traditional and royal jewellery is gradually warming almost like that of mainstream art is evident from the recent forays by lifestyle giants like Fabindia into traditional jewellery retail.
It launched its collection of ethnic and eco-friendly jewellery in gold, silver, bronze and regional craftswares a month ago. And the sales are booming.