12 February 2014

The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace

Queen Elizabeth II wears the Nizam necklace on the Bahamian dollar bill [1]
Those who have been hoping that the rumors that the Duchess of Cambridge has been granted wider access to royal heirloom jewels were true were surely quite happy yesterday. Kate attended a black-tie reception at the National Portrait Gallery in London wearing a Jenny Packham dress and a platinum and diamond necklace from the Queen's personal collection.

The Nizam of Hyderabad [2]
The necklace in question was a wedding gift to the then-Princess Elizabeth from the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1947. Asaf Jah VII was the ruler (or Nizam) of Hyderabad, which is located in the south-central part of the sub-continent of India (which was then under British colonial rule). He was one of the richest men in the world, so he could afford to give the princess a truly spectacular wedding gift. He followed through by fulfilling most jewel-lovers' greatest dream: he left instructions with Cartier to let the princess pick anything from their existing stock for her present. When you think about it, it was really like giving her one of the best gift cards of all time.

Princess Elizabeth chose two pieces: a floral tiara, which included removable elements that could be worn as brooches, and a coordinating floral necklace. Both pieces were made of diamonds set in platinum. The necklace, which was made by Cartier in 1935, is especially intricate, featuring more geometric diamonds nestled in the abstract floral design. Hugh Roberts describes it as follows: "The pavé-set centre with detachable double-drop pendant incorporating 13 emerald-cut diamonds and a pear-shaped drop; the chain of 38 brilliant-cut open-back collets with an elongated oval brilliant-set snap" [3]. The piece had actually been previously owned; it had been sold in 1936, and then reacquired by Cartier from the buyer the following year. The first incarnation the necklace included several additional pendant sections, which were removed by the jeweler before Elizabeth acquired it [4]. In the period before it was selected by Elizabeth, it was also photographed on Elfrida Greville, Countess of Warwick, who was married to the 6th Earl of Warwick.

Elizabeth wore both of the pieces frequently during the early years of her marriage. She posed in the necklace for one of the last series of portraits taken of her before she succeeded to the throne. The photographs were taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1951, and two of the images are now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Another early portrait of the Queen, in which she wears the Nizam necklace with the George IV State Diadem, has been reworked for use on various pieces of currency (including the image above).

In 1973, Elizabeth had the Nizam tiara dismantled. She kept the three floral brooches from the piece intact, but had the diamonds repurposed. They were combined with a cache of 96 Burmese rubies, which had also been a wedding gift, to make a new tiara, the Burmese Ruby. The necklace was not significantly altered. It remains today largely the same as it was when she selected it from Cartier, although she has shortened the chain, removing eight collets. She still wears the necklace on occasion, often pairing it with other impressive jewels, including the pearl and widowed versions of the Vladimir Tiara.

On February 11, the necklace was worn for the first time in public by the Duchess of Cambridge, granddaughter-in-law of the Queen. The piece joins a list of other heirloom royal jewels worn by Kate. You can see Kate wearing the piece in the following tweet, released by Hello! Canada:

It's a real treat to see the younger generation of the Windsors begin to wear some of the impressive pieces that belong to Elizabeth II. Here's hoping this is just the first of many jewelry surprises from Kate!

1. Cropped version of an image of the Bahamian dollar from the 1970s; source here.
2. Cropped version of a picture postcard available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
3. See Roberts, The Queen's Diamonds, pp. 282-85.
4. A photograph of the original version of the necklace is available on p. 282 of The Queen's Diamonds.