Extraordinary Encounters (III): A Carpet of Pearls

Saffronart’s inaugural Jewellery Conference, titled The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels, was held on 6 – 7 October 2017, and was the first of its scale in the region. Counting down the weeks to our second conference on 11 – 12 October 2019, we bring you some interesting anecdotes that were shared by our expert speakers in 2017. 


Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad at The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels conference in 2017.

Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad from the Royal Family of Baroda shared stories of her family’s significant jewellery collection in her talk titled “Royal Patronage, Enduring Grace: The Gaekwad Legacy.” She spoke about the jewels once owned by the family, such as the Dresden diamond and the Empress Eugenie diamond, but all of these paled in comparison to the well-known Pearl Carpet of Baroda. Maharani Gaekwad described this extravagant carpet as “an unrivaled example of local craftsmanship, jewels, and patronage.” The full suite allegedly comprised four panels, as well as a circular canopy. Of these, only one panel and the canopy remain. 

With a base of finely woven silk and deer skin, she described this creation as:

The carpet was embroidered in arabesque style with over 2.2 million beads and Basra seed pearls – the pearls alone amounting to 30,000 carats along with another 350 to 400 carats of diamonds. Embellished with sapphires, emeralds, and rubies, it was said to have cost Rs 10 million at that time. 

Many accounts, such as those by Michael White in the New York Times in 1906, claimed that it was “the most costly piece of jewellery in the world. In dazzling magnificence, it never has been, nor is ever likely to be excelled.” The carpet was commissioned in 1865 by Maharaja Khanderao II Gaekwad, who ruled Baroda from 1856 to 1870, intended as a gift to be laid over the Prophet Mohammed’s tomb in Medina. However, the donation was never made, and following the Maharaja’s death, it remained in the family treasury. 

The intricate floral and foliate designs articulated with millions of pearls in this mesmerising work reflect not only the latent influence of Mughal and Persian aesthetics, but also the flourishing pearl trade between India and the Arabian Gulf – which reached its peak in the mid-19th century when the highest quality pearls were traded between Basra (Iraq) and India. 

The second edition of Saffronart’s Jewellery Conference, titled Mapping a Legacy of Indian Jewels, will take place on 11  12 October 2019. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting interesting articles in conjunction with the conference. Stay tuned!


Cover image: Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda, circa 1890, from the Lee-Warner Collection (detail). Photographer unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

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