The Hollywood heist movie Ocean’s 8 created a wave around the world. About a daring attempt to steal a spectacular necklace, the film has a power-packed ensemble of Hollywood A-listers. What’s more, it packs in a punch, centered as it is around an ‘all gal’ gang. But for Indian history buffs, there is an added jewel in the film, the $150 million diamond necklace at the heart of the plot. This is a replica by Cartier, of a necklace that the company had made for Maharaja Sir Ranjitsinghji Jadeja of Nawanagar, better known as the famous cricketer Ranji!
Made in 1931, the Nawanagar necklace finds a prominent place in the catalogue of India’s finest jewels through history. But where is Nawanagar and how did the rulers manage to own this piece?
The princely state of Nawanagar (present-day Jamnagar) was ruled by the Jadeja dynasty, which claimed descent from Lord Krishna. Once a feudal backwater, Nawanagar entered a new era in 1907, with the accession of Ranjitsinghji on the throne.
Made in 1931, the Nawanagar necklace finds a prominent place in the catalogue of India’s finest jewels through history.
Ranji, who was not only a famous cricketer but also a great administrator, multiplied the revenues of his state by developing its ports. The added revenues meant that Ranji was able to indulge in his other great passion apart from cricket, collecting rare jewels. The ‘Nawanagar Jewels’ that he accumulated were described by his close friend, the famous jeweler Jacques Cartier, as ‘unsurpassed in the world, not perhaps in quantity but certainly in quality.’
While the great jewellery collections of Hyderabad, Baroda, Indore and Kapurthala are well known in international circles, the Nawanagar collection stands out for a sheer uniqueness. The pearl fisheries around Jamnagar produced natural black pearls, and the family had a rare necklace made of these. Other famous pieces they owned included an emerald necklace owned by the Ottoman Sultans, a necklace of carved emeralds, a beautiful lemon-coloured diamond known as the ‘Tiger’s eye’, and many other pieces.
Ranji was fond of colored diamonds and they were a part of the Nawanagar collection in every hue, in unprecedented numbers. There were mind-boggling pinks, blues, greens and blacks. The book ‘Cartier’ by Hans Nadelhoffer speaks of a red diamond and even a brown diamond bought by the Maharaja. These two are some of the rarest-known diamond types in the world and would command astronomical prices today.
In 1931, Ranji asked his friend Jacques Cartier to create a spectacular necklace of coloured diamonds unlike any other. Even someone like Cartier, who was used to making extraordinary commissions for American billionaries and Russian Tsars was amazed at the scale of it. What emerged was in Cartier’s words ‘the most precious cascade of precious diamonds known in history’.
It was Ranji’s nephew and successor Sir Digvijaysinhji Jadeja who is seen in numerous photographs wearing the necklace
The necklace consisted of two strands of first-class white diamonds, which were linked on both sides by a pair of square pink diamonds. The center pendant of the necklace comprised of several pink diamonds, a large 26 carat blue diamond, a 12 carat green diamond, and the famous 136 carat ‘Queen of Holland diamond’, a diamond larger than the 105 carat Kohinoor!
We don’t know when this extraordinary necklace was completed and made it back to Jamnagar. Sadly, Ranji did not live long enough to enjoy his necklace, he passed away in 1933. It was his nephew and successor Sir Digvijaysinhji Jadeja (1895-1966) who is seen in numerous photographs wearing the necklace on state occasions. Digvijaysinhji too was a lover of jewellery and expanded the Nawanagar collection extensively. The profits from the numerous companies that he promoted, like Digjam Suitings (Digjam is derived from Digvijay of Jamnagar) , Ashoka Hotel in Delhi, Sri Digvijay Cements and an airline known as Jamair allowed him to indulge his passion.
India’s Independence of 1947 India and the merger of the kingdom into the Republic of India changed the dynamics for the old royals. Like many of the others the Nawanagar family also felt the heat. It is believed that Cartier bought the necklace back from the Royal family in the 1960s. Over time, the necklace was broken down and sold as separate pieces.
Cartier decided to recreate the necklace to give a real-life glimpse into how this piece might have looked
Now the Nawanagar necklace has been resurrected. The decision by Warner Brothers and Cartier to recreate the necklace for the Ocean’s 8 film is interesting, as it gives us a real-life glimpse into how this piece might have looked, in its original. While an exact replica, the necklace used in the movie is actually a toned-down version. Instead of the famed coloured diamonds, it contains Zirconium and is a tad smaller in dimension.
So when you enjoy the antics of Sandra Bullock and Co., do marvel at this exquisite Indian treasure, which sadly can now only be witnessed on the silver screen, in all its glory.
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