Let’s Take Five

Eesha Patkar highlights the five revered gemstones from Saffronart’s upcoming jewellery auction

Last month was a milestone for Saffronart. We held our most successful sale ever in our 15 year journey as an auction house. We achieved world records for four important Indian artists, both Modern and Contemporary. We made headlines. And we basically raised the bar.

Even as we pat ourselves on the back—just the tiniest bit—we are already preparing for our next auction. This time, we’re adding some sparkle in the dry days of October. Not to mention, a bit of polish.

Coming up is our Online Auction of Fine Jewels and Silver on 28 – 29 October on saffronart.com. From traditional Indian jewellery that draws on centuries of craftsmanship, to peculiar sounding jewels that are as rare, as they are beautiful—we have it all.

For the next few weeks, we will cover some of the highlights of our auction in a series of blog posts. Today, we look at the Big Five: pearls, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. They’re part of an important order of nine gemstones—or navaratna—in Indian gemmology, and highly valued.

History is littered with stories, gruesome to romantic, that involve these prized jewels. And our auction features a bunch of them. They’re guaranteed to invite looks of envy. After all, as Harry Winston famously said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”


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You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder, and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night. But they’re sure fun when the sun shines.” —Elizabeth Taylor

An Important Diamond Necklace

An Important Diamond Necklace (on auction)

DIAMONDS have a long history in India, which was the world’s first and only source for this precious gemstone for more than 2000 years, until the discovery of diamond mines in Brazil in 1729.

The Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who travelled to India in the 13th century, narrates an exotic — and exaggerated — tale about the unapproachable diamond valleys of Golconda inhabited by deadly, venomous snakes and eagles who fed upon them, and the arduous manner in which the diamond seekers got their prize.

Maharajas, Mughal courts and royal families collected vast quantities of loose diamonds both, for their treasuries as well as for jewellery. These diamond crystals were rarely cut, so as to retain their original size and weight, and flaws were only camouflaged with small facets.

Of the many ways a diamond could be cut, the rose-cut—the flat-backed, domed and faceted top, as seen in the three-tiered diamond necklace on auction—was attributed to Indian lapidaries. Mughal jewellers used this technique to make the best use of irregular, flat type of rough diamonds.

Lot_56a

The lot on auction is a modern version of diamond necklaces favoured by royalty. It is significant for its use of unusually large, rose-cut diamonds, inverted, with a nod to the flat-cut diamonds used in traditional Jadau jewellery. The use of spacers with peacock motif as a harness is a subtle nod to traditional Indian design, while maintaining a modern minimalism which allows for a focus on the stone rather than the setting.

Fact: In 1947, King George VI—the last Emperor of India—inherited 239 loose diamond collets, believed to be from India, among other Crown heirlooms. He had a diamond necklace commissioned for his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, using 105 of these stones, set in a style similar to those in the necklace on auction. The resulting piece was named the Queen’s Festoon Necklace. After her ascension to the throne, the Festoon Necklace has adorned Queen Elizabeth II at various state dinners and galas in 1957, 1958 and 1962 and later.


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Pearls are always appropriate.” —Jackie Kennedy Onassis

A Fve Strand Natural Pearl Necklace

A Five Strand Natural Pearl Necklace (on auction)

PEARLS are classic. They have been admired since antiquity, appearing in all kinds of variations in traditional Indian jewellery. In the navaratna order, they’re associated with the moon (the celestial deity Chandra) for their soft radiance and satin sheen.

In the Mughal era, pearls were ubiquitous among the ruling class. Emperor Akbar was frequently depicted wearing multi-strand pearl necklaces. Later portraits and accounts of the Maharajas of post-Mughal India—which depicted them decked head-to-toe in jewellery worth their weight—show an abundant display of pearls in necklaces, turban ornaments and other sartorial accessories. According to historian Oppi Untracht, the natural pearls owned by the Maharaja of Patiala were considered to be among the world’s finest.

Most natural beds of pearl-bearing oysters ran dry due to over-harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, natural pearls are extremely rare and expensive. By the early 20th century, cultured pearls—grown under tightly controlled conditions through a technique perfected in Japan—came into mass production, and were widely used in the jewellery trade.

The five-strand magnificent pearl necklace on auction bears a setting seen quite commonly in traditional Indian jewellery—pierced and strung as beads. Pearl stringing was an art, requiring experience and judgment, and a great way to determine the value of a necklace by its arrangement.

Lot_37a

The lot on auction is a striking example of the sharp graduation style of pearls, where the focus is on the size and lustre of the central pearls. The design is further enhanced because all five strands end with larger sized pearls which connect to the clasp, as opposed to the more conventional way of stringing pearls according to size. This style of sharp graduation was popular among royal families all over India.

Fact: In medieval Europe, only royalty and high nobility were allowed pearls. Queen Elizabeth I, although abhorrent of them initially, came to love pearls so much in her later life that she had them sewn on to her wigs and dresses.


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Girls can wear pearls, but it takes a woman to wear serious emeralds.” —Hettie Judah

EMERALDS have a powerful place in the world of gemstones as the most famous members of the Beryl family. Ancient myths credit this brilliant green stone with magical properties, from the ability to predict the future, to detecting falsehoods. Emeralds were even worn as protective talismans and were believed to cure fatal diseases.

In Hindu texts, the emerald was one of the navaratna stones, representing the planet Mercury. In Persian culture they symbolised goodness and purity. But it was in medieval Europe—where jewels held symbolic importance in political circles—that this gemstone was perhaps considered the most sacrosanct. According to Hettie Judah, “Sumptuary laws of Byzantium, and many from medieval Europe, forbade the wearing of gemstones such as emeralds by those outside the circles of the court; money alone could not purchase the right to wear jewels.”

The earliest known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating as far back as 330 BC, and functioned well into the 1700s. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra was known for her love of emeralds, often using it in her royal wardrobe. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered emerald mines in Colombia, which produced infinitely finer emeralds in terms of colour, clarity and size.

The quality of an emerald is largely assessed on the basis of its colour. For the longest time, Colombian emeralds have led the market, as they are “blessed with near-perfect colour chemistry”, according to Jonathan Self, author of Emerald: Twenty-one Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power.

A Colombian Emerald and Diamond Pendant (on auction)

A Colombian Emerald and Diamond Pendant (on auction)

Microscopic inclusions in a Colombian emerald can cause the light penetrating the stone to scatter, giving rise to a rich “green fire” that is widely recognised by experts and desired by collectors, who consider Colombian emeralds as undisputedly the best. The pendant on auction contains a step-cut emerald from Colombia, weighing 24.11 carats.

Fact: India became acquainted with emeralds through Portuguese traders, who brought it through the ports in Goa and Deccan. One of the largest emeralds, dating back to 1695, is believed to have come from the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, the last of the Mughal rulers. The Mogul Emerald, as it is known, weighs 217.80 carats and is about 10 cm high, with one side inscribed with Islamic prayers and the other with flower ornaments. In 2001, it sold in auction for a cool $2.2 million.


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A kiss on the hand may feel very, very good, but a diamond and sapphire bracelet lasts forever.” ―Anita Loos

A Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring (on auction)

A Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring (on auction)

A bracelet it’s not, but the Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring lot on auction not only feels good, and is one to last for eternity. The blue sapphire—(yes, sapphire comes in a range of colours, besides blue)—belongs to a translucent, dark-blue variety of the mineral species corundum.

From 1880 to 1920, Kashmiri sapphires had attracted a lot of attention, found after a landslide hit the region at an altitude of 16,000 feet. The pure, intense blue with the subtle undertone of violet—mined heavily for over eight years—is still considered the holy grail of the sapphire groups. This prized sapphire is rare and coveted now, given that the region was completed depleted of its sapphire sources.

In the last few years, fine Burmese sapphires from the Baw Mar area of Mogok have gained recognition in the market. After the Kashmiri sapphire, the Burmese colour is regarded as highly valuable—ranging from a rich, full royal blue to a deep cornflower blue. The ring on auction has at its centre an oval-shaped natural Burmese sapphire cabochon of vivid blue colour, with no indications of heat treatment.

In Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon, mining for gemstones began since antiquity, and the oldest sapphires are found there. Sri Lankan sapphires are recognised for their luminosity—colours range from light to mid-blue.

Today, most blue sapphires come from Australia or from Thailand.

While a lot of Indians treat the sapphire with superstition and wear it with great caution—due its association with the unpopular Saturn (Shani) planet in Hindu mythology—many other cultures enjoy its cool, spirituality-invoking colour. The visual allusion to blue skies and the infinite universe is an easy one to make. Those who adopt gem therapy believe the sapphire brings about tranquillity and better concentration, and can cure rheumatic aches, ulcers and eye problems.

lot_3a

Fact: The world’s most famous sapphire and diamond ring is as engagement ring worn by Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. It was once worn by Princess Diana during her engagement to Prince Charles, Prince William’s father, and has a great resemblance to the ring on auction.


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Rubies do not age. The fire that was locked in their hearts millions of years ago still burns, even after the emperors and empires that fought for them have crumbled to dust and ashes.” —Fire and Blood: Rubies in Myth, Magic, and History

An Impressive Pair of Ruby and Diamond Ear Pendants

An Impressive Pair of Ruby and Diamond Ear Pendants (on auction)

Rubies have been called the Ratnaraj, or “The Emperor of Gems,” in Sanskrit. In Hindu mythology, the Ratna Pariksha describes the demon Vala, who was dismembered for a sacrifice. Each of his body parts turned into a brilliant gemstone as it fell to earth, the ruby being one of them. Rubies were believed to treat heart and blood diseases, and to bless the wearer with longevity and excellent health. A Burmese legend mentions that warriors embedding rubies in their flesh to remain invincible in battle. Whether it was the allure of its brilliant red or its reputation as an amulet, many sought their claim to this lyrical gem.

The ruby has a rich genealogy. Rubies are related to sapphires and belong to the corundum family. They earn their fiery red colour from the presence of chromium. Rubies vary in colour, and are assigned value accordingly. Until recently, Burmese rubies dominated the colour valuation with their pigeon-blood red colour.

The discovery of ruby mines in Montepuez, Mozambique, however, has had many turn their attention to Mozambique as a significant source of fire-red rubies. Mozambique rubies are distinct for their rich, deep, red colour, which is highly coveted today. The price of Mozambique rubies is still a steal for the quality of colour and value they provide.

The cushion shaped rubies in the ear pendants and bracelet on auction are Mozambican in origin.

A Ruby and Diamond Bracelet

A Ruby and Diamond Bracelet (on auction)

Fact: The ruby ear pendants on auction were worn by Mila Kunis, the brand ambassador for Gemfields—a gemstone mining company headquartered in the United Kingdom—at an event by Burberry, held at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, earlier this year.


A Brief History of Indian Art

We’ve put together a very, very concise guide on Modern and Contemporary Indian Art for our StoryLTD customers

If you’ve visited our sister site, StoryLTD by Saffronart, and spent hours (or minutes, for the impatient) sifting through our pages, this might come as some handy information for you. We’ve introduced succinct essays on most of our categories, going by genre and medium, to guide you on what each category has to offer. If you find yourself fancying some of the folk and tribal art paintings, or any of the landscapes for sale, browse through our collection and scroll to the bottom to learn more about them.

Here, we’ve summed up the Modern and Contemporary art movements, talking about the circumstances that shaped each generation’s approach to art.

An Overview of Modern Indian Art

We cover a broad spectrum of prints of Modern Indian paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, Sakti Burman, S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain, and other artists active in the early-to-mid 20th century.

During the early and mid 1900s, the dilemma for many artists centred around interrogating Western influences on artistic expression, establishing a distinct identity and idiom for Indian art, and engaging with the role and function of the artist in a country like India. The British encouraged a Western approach to art; a realistic, trompe l’oeil work was more valued than the practices previously favoured. As a knee-jerk reaction, different schools of thought, such as the Bengal School, cropped up to check colonialism and Western ideals.

Following India’s independence, artists addressed themes ranging from the everyday and trivial to the social and political, from the late forties through succeeding decades. Sculptors also experimented with different materials and techniques to lend a more personal and reflective quality to their work. By the 1970s, a number of social and political events unfolding across the country left an impression on artists. The role of the artist in a developing country and the need for social responsiveness were interrogated by these practitioners. This decade also saw many more women artists come forward on the artistic scene, the majority of them delineating a point of view that combined the feminist and the subjective.

Contemporary Paintings

Indian Contemporary art has come to include art made from the mid-80s onwards. Our section on StoryLTD features original paintings by contemporary artists for sale.

The modernism of the preceding decades set the tone of Indian artistic practice in the late eighties and nineties. The new generation had long moved on from the concerns that plagued artists in the earlier half of the century. During the 1990s, a pluralist and fragmentative mood dominated the creation of contemporary art. Artists had to respond to a plethora of stimuli, trying to address a new age of information, and the emergence and novel concerns of the ‘global Indian’. The Indian art market has ever since opened up abroad. Art galleries within the country have increased in number, and the Indian artist is now faced with the challenge of speaking to a more diffuse audience.

Today, the work of artists from the Indian diaspora, the blurring of design and art, and the videos, installations and digital spaces of an even younger generation of artists have all added new dimensions to Indian contemporary art, a vague and undefined concept ever-receptive to growth and change.

To buy Indian paintings and prints online, visit www.storyltd.com

Jangarh Singh Shyam’s Traditions in Folk Art Carry On Strong

 Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart on the continual legacy and evolution of Gond Folk Art. 

Nankusia Shyam Painting http://indianartscene.blogspot.in/2013/08/jangarh-singh-shyams-legacy-gond-art.html

Nankusia Shyam Painting
http://indianartscene.blogspot.in/2013/08/jangarh-singh-shyams-legacy-gond-art.html

New York: The Gond tribe, one of the largest communities in India, is well known for utilizing song, dance, and arts both in times of mourning and immense celebration. There are deep seeded traditions in artistic festivals and various techniques in visual and performing arts. These include a strong attention to color and details in painting. In the 1980’s many of these artistic traditions were diluted by many of the men in these communities moving towards cities and larger areas of commerce for greater work opportunities. However, this movement for business also prompted folk traditions to be brought into the city centers. This wealth of tribal art brought into the cities prompted the Director of Bharat Bhawan, the multi-genre arts complex in Bhopal to construct the tribal art wing. With an established space for exhibiting tribal and folk work, artists in this tradition were fostered and their work became more successful.

 

Gond Folk Art http://indianartscene.blogspot.in/2013/08/jangarh-singh-shyams-legacy-gond-art.html

Gond Folk Art
http://indianartscene.blogspot.in/2013/08/jangarh-singh-shyams-legacy-gond-art.html

Artist Jangar Sing Shyam was the first Gond artist to use paper and canvas for his paintings. The Bharat Bhawan became a jump off for Shyam’s work being shown throughout India as well as internationally. Tragically Shyam took his own life while working in Japan. Details as to why he chose to end his life so young in his successful career are still unclear. He is survived by his wife Nankusia Shyam who’s creativity was immensely sparked by her husband’s art career. Since his passing she has used painting as a way to carry on his memory and remain connected to him. While many artists have utilized his passing as a means to promote their own tribal art, Nankusia has been motivated to establish her family as the primary practitioners of true Gond art in the tradition of her husband.

 

Gond Folk Art http://indianartscene.blogspot.in/2013/08/jangarh-singh-shyams-legacy-gond-art.html

Gond Folk Art http://indianartscene.blogspot.in/2013/08/jangarh-singh-shyams-legacy-gond-art.html

Overtime Ms. Shyam’s work has gained confidence and she has truly defined her own independent style and aesthetic. Her work exhibits a strong narrative by utilizing fantastical elements such as mythical animals. In addition to his wife’s artistic practice, Jangarh Singh Shyam integrated his style into the community through an apprenticeship program while he was still alive. This has fostered a robust community of Gond artists in the tradition that is now termed “Jangarh Kalam”. Through the creative passion of his family and community, Jangarh Singh Shyam’s work will forever be remembered.

Take Me Elsewhere

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart shares a note on “Take Me Elsewhere” a video program curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt in New York

London: Vanity Projects in New York is currently hosting “Take Me Elsewhere” until November 30.

Logic of Birds, Sonia Khurana, 2006.

Logic of Birds, Sonia Khurana, 2006. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Vanity Projects, a high end nail art atelier, decided to undertake a thrilling and challenging project: to make video art more accessible to a wider audience and change the way collectors and art-lovers perceive and experience video art.

The program, curated by Mumbai based curator Diana Campbell Betancourt, revolves around the concept of mentally escaping the limitations of physical reality. Six artists: Hemali Bhuta, Tejal Shah, Neha Choksi, Sahej Rahal, Sonia Khurana and Vishal K Dar explore in different ways our mental power to escape elsewhere, even for a moment.

Saras, Sahej Rahal

Saras, Sahej Rahal. Courtesy of the Artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai

Highlights of the exhibition are “Minds to Lose” by Neha Choksi and “Between the Waves Channel II (Landfill Dance)” by Tejal Shah.

Neha Choksi in her video experiences the act of losing consciousness from the physical body through the radical act of anaesthetizing herself and four farm animals whilst the audience was encouraged to pet both the artist and the animals. The video discusses the meaning of having a mind and rational consciousness for a body under general anaesthesia.

Minds to Lose, Neha Choksi, 2008-11

Minds to Lose, Neha Choksi, 2008-11. Image Credit: http://project88mumbai.wordpress.com/

On the other hand Tejal Shah, imagines escaping reality creating an alternative reality for the past and future.

More information about the programme can be found here.

 

stART&D: A New Digital Platform for Contemporary Indian Art and Design

Nishad Avari shares a note about this new, exciting initiative, and offers a sneak peek of one of its first projects – a film on Shilpa Gupta’s ‘I Live Under Your Sky Too’

stART&DMumbai: Scheduled to launch later this year, with a host of interesting content focusing on contemporary Indian art, design and culture, stART&D is an inventive, edgy digital platform created by Anita Horam and Mozez Singh that will promote, produce and present all forms of arts and design that  represent “India cool”. stART&D promises a digital magazine, public exhibitions and more through Indian and international collaborations and partnership programs.

Their first project is a video presentation on the public installation of Shilpa Gupta’s site specific animated light work, ‘I Live Under Your Sky Too’, in Mumbai. This project was curated by Diana Campbell of the Creative India Foundation, who is also one of our guest bloggers.

Gupta’s piece was first installed in front of the Arabian Sea at Carter Road in Bandra, Mumbai, and is currently on view in the courtyard of Phoenix Mills mall at Lower Parel, Mumbai. First created in 2011, this piece has been exhibited at indoor and outdoor locations around the world, including in the exhibition ‘All You Need is Love’ at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo this year.

Here is stART&D’s video on the installation:

 

Stay tuned for more information on stART&D.

To learn more about Shilpa Gupta’s installation, see the Creative India Foundation website and their Facebook page.

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