An exhibition of intricately designed 17th-to-20th-century jewellery and ornate objects from India debuts on October 13 at the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) world headquarters in Carlsbad, California. Centuries of Opulence: Jewels of India, will be on display through March 2018, showcasing 300 years of adornment with 50 lavish historical jewellery pieces and objects, including several from the Mughal Empire (1526–1857).
“We are thrilled to be able to exhibit this spectacular historical jewellery,” said Terri Ottaway, curator of the GIA museum. “The wealth of gems in each piece gives us a tantalizing look at the lavishness of the royal courts of India from centuries past.”
The exhibition explores the often meandering routes diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other gems decorating these pieces took from their sources across the globe. It delves into their religious and cultural symbolism, the wars fought for them and the historical tradition of gemmology in India. The pieces exhibited are on loan from a private collection.
Ottaway continued, “The nobility of India traded diamonds from their famous Golconda region for Colombian emeralds, Burmese rubies and pearls from the Persian Gulf. No mine was too remote to access, no ocean was too wide to cross, in pursuit of the very best gems. For the gems not only conveyed wealth and status, they were also worn as talismans for the protection and enhancement of life. With so much at stake, you begin to understand why wars were won and lost for these treasures.”
Throughout India’s history, many different gems were used in elaborately designed jewellery. Some served to honour religious figures; other jewels were integral to the marriage contract, as seen in nose rings worn as tribute to happiness in the union. Elaborately designed wedding necklaces depicted snakes or fish as symbols of fertility, and the colours used in enamel ̶ typically on the back of jewellery pieces ̶ functioned as a representation of the forces of life.
The exhibition opens in conjunction with the GIA’s annual Jewellery Career Fair on October 13, the only day when the campus is open to the public with no appointment necessary.