From the Vault
Fascination with India leads to a new jewelry style
The image of India as a land of legendary gems and fabulous
treasures developed in the mind of western civilization after
1876, when Britain assumed control and supremely wealthy Indian
princes began to travel the world on diplomatic visits and lavishly
entertained visiting European dignitaries. The West was entranced
by the masses of jewelry Indian potentates wore to show their
wealth: ropes of pearls, jeweled turban ornaments, gemstone tassels,
gem-studded arm bands and vast necklaces of rubies, emeralds
and diamonds with pearls in enameled gold.
In Europe, Indian princes became acquainted with Parisian
jewelry design and commissioned leading French jewelers to reset
their jewels in the modern style with platinum and faceted diamonds.
The beauty of these traditional Indian jewels set with cabochon
or tumbled rubies, emeralds and sapphires was an inspiration
for French jewelers. In their eyes, these pieces had a barbaric
splendor that was exotic and untamed.
This attraction for the exotic was fueled by the Ballets Russes
production of Scheherezade that took Paris by storm in 1910.
The audience was electrified by the rich, primary colors of the
sets and costumes. Designers quickly introduced harem dresses,
harem pants and turbans. Jewelry designs took longer to evolve.
Though Indian and other oriental motifs began to appear around
1910, the use of colored gems in strong contrast didn't take
full effect until the 1920s.
Jacques Cartier was one of the first European jewelers to
visit India to buy gems. He developed a rapport with wealthy
Indian maharajas, many of whom sold a few exceptional gems from
their private collections. Cartier obtained a select inventory
of gems, including antique engraved emeralds and carved emerald
beads from the Mughal period.
Buying gems on the open market was a different story. Fine-quality
gems were very expensive and hard to obtain, but lower-grade
rubies, emeralds and sapphires were readily available. Cartier
recognized an untapped potential. Using the antique engraved
emeralds of Mughal India as inspiration, he had these low-quality
but richly colored gems carved into stylized leaves and fruit
and incorporated them into modern jewelry set with diamonds in
As this fashion for "multigem" jewels in the Indian
style caught on, other jewelers followed Cartier's lead. Strap
bracelets incorporating the vine motif seen in Persian and Indian
art were very popular. Other fast favorites were brooches and
clips designed as little bowls of fruit, vases of flowers and
potted plants known as giardinetti, or little gardens. Carved
gems were set in long necklaces with tassel pendants, in the
straps and around the tiny faces of narrow bracelet watches,
in the frames and clasps of dressy handbags, and in a wide variety
of earrings and rings.
Many of these creations incorporated gem beads as well. Antique
emerald beads were the most sought after, strung with pearls
in long sautoirs and tassels. Contemporary carved beads of ruby,
sapphire and black onyx were set on platinum posts and capped
by small diamonds to hold them firmly in place. Set with carved
leaves and flowers, these beads gave the effect of luscious fruit.
This style faded in the early 1930s when "all white"
jewelry became popular. Today, we know these Indian-inspired
jewels as "fruit salad" or "tutti-frutti"
jewelry, terms recently applied by auction houses. Quintessentially
Art Deco in style, fruit salad jewels are eagerly sought by collectors,
perfectly demonstrating how a clever use of lesser gems can create
a jewel of extraordinary value.
by Elise B. Misiorowski
||A carved sapphire bird sings atop a branch with
carved emerald leaves and sapphire and ruby berries set with
diamonds and platinum in a jabot brooch of Indian inspiration.
Cartier circa 1925. Courtesy of a private collection.
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.