05 June 2016

Kate's Jewelry Box: The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace

The Duchess of Cambridge wears the Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace (Photo: ALASTAIR GRANT/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Duchess of Cambridge has begun attending more and more high-profile evening events, her access to the Queen's jewelry box has broadened. One of the first major pieces of gala-caliber jewelry loaned to Kate by the Queen is today's jewel: her elaborate Cartier necklace from the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Photo: SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images

The necklace 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 subcontinent of India (which was then still 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.

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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 geometric diamond patterns nestled in the abstract floral design. In The Queen's Diamonds, Hugh Roberts describes it as follows: "The pav√©-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."

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 of the necklace included several additional pendant sections, which were removed by the jeweler before Elizabeth acquired it. 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.

Photo: DAVE CHAN/AFP/Getty Images

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, however, has not been 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.

Photo: Alastair Grant-WPA Pool/Getty Images

In February 2014, Kate wore the necklace for the first time in public. She appeared in the piece at a gala held at the National Portrait Gallery. Her hair obscured the piece in many of the photographs, but a few shots allowed us to see its full glitter. She paired the necklace with her modern diamond cluster and baguette earrings. 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 the jewelry surprises from Kate just keep coming!

Note: this is an updated version of an earlier post, with new text/images.