Updated: September 10, 2020 10:25:35 pm
Legendary diamonds, ropes of perfect pearls, gem carpets, golden carriages and bejewelled elephants — when Jacques Cartier visited Baroda in 1912, he was greeted with treasures beyond his wildest imagination. Fast forward three generations, granddaughter of Jacques Cartier, Francesca Cartier Brickell, and ‘Maharani’ Radhikaraje Gaekwad of Lukshmi Vilas Palace opened up about the gem-rich legacy of their ancestors for the first time.
During the conversation, the two women shared the perspectives of both families with Brickell revealing the “culture shock” Jacques Cartier had when he realised that erstwhile kings of India wore more jewellery than the queens.
The webinar titled ‘The Cartiers and The Maharajahs: At Home with the Maharani of Baroda’ by Francesca Cartier Brickell — who is now the custodian of the family legacy of the famous jewellery house — was held in collaboration with ‘Maharani’ Radhikaraje Gaekwad of the Baroda royal family on September 4.
Brickell, who has also written a book titled The Cartiers: The Untold Story of a Jewellery Dynasty that was released in India at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2019, revealed how Jacques Cartier was in for a ‘culture shock’ when he arrived in India in 1911 and met Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III for the commissioning of jewellery for the erstwhile Baroda king. Brickell said, “In the West, jewellery was worn by women of the royal families and commissioned for the women. But in India, he was surprised to find that the men (kings) were commissioning jewellery not for the women but for themselves.”
Radhikaraje, who collaborated with Brickell by adding information available with Vadodara’s Lukshmi Vilas Palace records of the jewellery, explained the cultural differences between the royal families of India and the West in the context of jewellery. Radhikaraje said, “For Indian kings, the jewellery was not as much about commercial value as it was about proclamation of power and prosperity. Baroda was a very prosperous powerful state at that time. Some of the jewellery was acquired through victories in battles, some by marriage and most of the jewellery had some sentimental value and pride attached to it.”
Radhikaraje also displayed slides of a bejewelled coat belonging to Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad with 324 diamonds, 14,313 pearls and 58 rubies as per the records of the palace which was priced at Rs 20,581 in the 18th century. The intricate work on the coat, she said, was similar to the famous Baroda pearl carpet.
Radhikaraje explained that the maharajas of Vadodara not just wore jewellery but also clothes woven in gold. Displaying a picture of Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad, she said, “You can see that the maharaja is dressed in jewellery from head to toe, right from the headclip to the necklace and other accessories. The reason why men of the royal families wore jewellery and not much of the women is also because women were mostly in Purdah during that time. The maharanis did not participate in public court or mingle or travel on their own. So the jewellery was worn by the Maharaja mainly.”
Brickell and Radhikaraje revealed how the reason for the meeting between Cartier and Maharaja Sayajirao III was the Imperial Durbar in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of George V and Mary of Teck. Radhikaraje revealed that Sayajirao had been disappointed about having to attend the Durbar and even told Jawaharlal Nehru that he wished he didn’t have to “see the day”.
She said, “At the 1911 Delhi Durbar, when everyone was dressed up to welcome George V and Mary of Teck, Maharaja Sayajirao was defiant in his own way… So, while everyone was expected to be dressed to their finest, Sayajirao chose a plain cotton white robe.”
Jacques Cartier visited Baroda state after the Durbar. Brickell revealed that he had written in his diary that, “He was welcomed very warmly by Maharani Chimnabai II”. Brickell said, “Jacques has mentioned that she was in control and seemed like the woman of the house. She made decisions about the designs of the jewellery.”
To this, Radhikaraje said, ” Maharani Chimnabai II was a very strong woman and made independent jewellery commissions. She never required permissions for those. She did away with Purdah system in Vadodara — which is why she could even wear jewellery then — and wrote a book. She travelled on her own and learnt about jewellery of many places.”
Brickell and Radhikaraje also shared how their decision to collaborate to explore the legacy of jewellery commissioned by the Baroda royal family to Cartier’s led Brickell to finding a picture of a pocket watch that she could not originally identify.
It was only when Radhikaraje identified the Baroda crest that they discovered it to be a piece from the family. Sayajirao had set up a system of documenting all the jewellery of Baroda by recording the number of gemstones, their weight and other details that have helped the family learn about the legacy, Radhikaraje said.
Among the jewellery discussed in the webinar was the famous Baroda diamond necklace with the central rectangular piece.
Star of the South, originally owned by Napoleon as well as the Baroda pearl necklace, which has seven strands of Basra pearls.
Radhikaraje revealed that one has to “go through about 10,000 clams to get one pearl of a good size and colour”, emphasizing on the effort taken to put together the mesmerising piece, which is considered the world’s finest pearl necklace.
The two women also discussed the jewellery commissioned by Sita Devi, the second wife of Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad, including the famous bracelet she commissioned to Cartier’s and also the jewellery designs commissioned by Sayajirao’s daughter Princess Indiraraje Gaekwad and her daughter, Maharani Gayatri Devi, who was the third Maharani consort of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of erstwhile Jaipur state.
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