The journey of the emerald in this brooch from Colombia, where it originated in its natural state, to seventeenth-century India and back to New York underscores the abiding and universal attraction of great gems.
This large, carved emerald from Mughal India is set in a jeweled platinum mount produced in the early twentieth century by Cartier in New York. The octagonal gem is decorated with a central rosette from which four blooms project in the cardinal directions. Although emeralds form naturally in hexagons, this one has been recut and sliced laterally, perhaps by Cartier, in the course of turning it into a brooch. The piece exemplifies the significant role India played in international trade in the modern era. Much admired by the Mughal emperors, wealthy courtiers, and the maharajas and nawabs of the later courts of India, emeralds were largely imported from Colombia in the seventeenth century. Sizable carved stones served as the centerpieces of turban ornaments, belt fittings, and bazubands, worn on the upper arm. Mughal women did wear jewelry, but larger-scale gems were mostly reserved for men, a projection of their wealth and power.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, during the British Raj, Indian tastes in jewelry changed to reflect Victorian styles. White gold, silver, and platinum settings grew in popularity, and stones that had been considered inauspicious, such as sapphires, now joined emeralds, diamonds, rubies, and spinels in elegant pendants, brooches, and other ornaments. In 1911, Jacques Cartier made his first trip to India to collect gems, many of which, like this brooch, were removed from earlier settings and remounted to conform to the latest Art Deco fashion. Some of the Cartier-set gems were sold back to Indian clients, particularly royalty; others found their way to jewel boxes of American and European heiresses. The journey of the emerald in this brooch from Colombia, where it originated in its natural state, to seventeenth-century India and back to New York underscores the abiding and universal attraction of great gems.
Patti Cadby Birch Curator in Charge
Department of Islamic Art