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 Emerald Ring & world famous Necklace
Origin of name
The Chalk Emerald Ring which is an important and famous exhibit in the National Gem Collection of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, gets its name from the one time owner of the emerald Mrs. Claire Chalk, wife of Oscar Roy Chalk, the renowned New York entrepreneur who was the owner of real estate, airlines, bus companies, newspapers and a rail line that transported bananas in Central America, and even a Central American banana plantation for a short period. Mr. O. Roy Chalk purchased the emerald ring from Harry Winston and gifted it to his wife, who wore the stunning emerald ring for a state dinner at the White House, in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. However, during the party Mrs. Claire Chalk observed that Her Excellency the Queen, was wearing a less attractive emerald ring,
and decided to turn her ring around on her finger, so as not to upstage the queen. In the year 1972, Mrs. Claire Chalk in consultation with her husband, donated the fabulous emerald ring to the National Museum of Natural History, of the Smithsonian Institution.
Characteristics of the gemstone The Chalk Emerald is a 37.82-carat
The Chalk Emerald is a 37.82-carat, square emerald-cut, deep bluish-green emerald of Colombian origin, with a good transparency. Like all natural emeralds the Chalk Emerald also contain some Jardin or inclusions, but in spite of it ranks among the very finest of Colombian emeralds.

The top quality emerald was previously the centerpiece of an emerald and diamond necklace, that belonged to the most flamboyant Maharani of Baroda, Maharani Sita Devi, the "Wallis Simpson of India" who was compelled to sell part of her enormous collection of jewelry due to financial difficulties, while living in Monaco. Harry Winston purchased the necklace, and after re-cutting the emerald from its original 38.40 carats to 37.82 carats, set it in a platinum ring, surrounded by 60 pear-shaped colorless diamonds, with a total weight of 15 carats. The surrounding colorless diamonds further enhanced the beauty of the emerald, and made it a masterpiece in jewelry setting, that would forever remain a living monument to the designing skills of the the "King of Diamonds" Harry Winston.

History of the gemstone

The source of the Chalk Emerald

The Chalk Emerald is undoubtedly of Colombian origin, as all other emeralds that reached India during and after the Moghul period that lasted from the early-16th century to the mid-19th century. The Spanish discovery of emeralds in Colombia also took place around the mid-16th century, and most of the emeralds mined from the historic emerald mines of Colombia, Muzo, Chivor and Coscuez, eventually found their way to the Islamic Empires of Turkey, Persia (Iran) and India (Moghul Empire). The Chalk Emerald would have entered the treasury of Baroda either during the Mughal period of its history that lasted from 1573 to 1734 or during the Maratha period (1734-1947) when Baroda became the capital of the powerful Gaekwar family.

Is Chivor the possible mine of origin of the Chalk Emerald?

Even though it is known for certain that the Chalk Emerald originated in Colombia, the actual mine from which the emerald was discovered is not known. But, the deep bluish-green color of the emerald might provide some clue as to the mine of origin, as the emeralds produced in the three mines have their own characteristic colors and other physical and optical properties such as specific gravity and refractive index. Emeralds produced in the Muzo mines have a deep herbal-green color, those produced in Coscuez have a typical yellowish-green color, while those produced in the Chivor mines are deep bluish-green in color. Thus the Chalk Emerald based on its color alone appears to have originated in the Chivor mines of Colombia. This could have been confirmed if the specific gravity and the refractive index of the emerald was known, as emeralds originating in Chivor have a slightly lower specific gravity (2.69) and refractive index (1.571), than those of the Muzo emeralds (2.71 and 1.578).

When was the Chalk Emerald discovered ?

If the origin of the Chalk Emerald is the Chivor mines, situated at the southeastern end of the NW-SE emerald belt of the Andes Mountains, the emerald would have been discovered in Chivor most probably in the period between the 1540s and 1675, before the Chivor mines were closed down indefinitely by royal decree issued by King Charles II of Spain, due to the brutal and unbearable cruelty shown towards the Indian workers. After the closure of the Chivor mines, the surrounding jungles reclaimed the mines, and the whereabouts of the mine was unknown, until rediscovered in 1896 by the mining engineer Don Francisco Restrepo. However, production in the Chivor mines resumed only in the year 1911. It is also quite possible that the Chalk Emerald was discovered after 1911 and entered the Baroda treasury between the years 1911 and 1947, the year the Princely States were abolished. But, the period 1540 to 1675 is more favorable as emeralds in large quantities entered the Mughal treasury during this period, the height of Mughal power in India. Large quantities of the bright green stones filled several chests in the Mughal treasury, and several of them were mounted on the splendorous "Peacock Throne" of Emperor Shah Jahaan (1628-58). It is also well known that Nadir Shah the mighty conqueror from Iran, carried away several chests full of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds and pearls, when he invaded Delhi and Agra in 1739, and plundered the wealth of the two cities. According to historical evidence, India, under the mighty Moghul Emperors Babur (1526-30), Humayun (1530-56), Akbar the Great (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27), Shah Jahaan (1628-58) and Aurangzeb (1658-1707), was one of the richest nations on earth, whose subjugation and eventual colonization was the primary aim of the western colonial powers.

The Chalk Emerald enters the Baroda treasury

Khande Rao Gaekwar

The Maharajah's of Baroda were well known for their lavish and extravagant tastes, which almost reached mythical proportions during the reign of Khande Rao Gaekwar (1856-70), who was one of the most notable jewelry collectors of the 19th century, and possessed an impressive and unparalleled collection of jewels and jewelry. Khande Rao Gaekwar did not mind the expenditure, when it came to the acquisition of remarkable pieces of jewels and jewelry. In fact one of his most remarkable acquisitions was the 128.48-carat "Star of the South" diamond, which has gone down in history as the first Brazilian diamond to receive international acclaim, and was purchased by the Maharajah for £80,000. The Maharajah also purchased the 76.5-carat drop-shaped "English Dresden Diamond" and got both stones set as the centerpiece of a triple-tiered diamond necklace, which came to be known as the "Baroda Diamond Necklace."

Some of the other extravagant pieces of jewelry attributed to Khande Rao Gaekwar are , the magnificent ceremonial necklace, the seven-stranded diamond and emerald necklace known as the "Hindu Necklace," and the magnificent and legendary seven-stranded natural pearl necklace, which came to be known as the "Baroda Pearl Necklace." These two pieces were the most expensive pieces of jewelry owned by the Gaekwar of Baroda.

If the Chalk Emerald originated in the Chivor mines, it might not have entered the Baroda treasury during the reign of Khande Rao Gaekwar (1856-70), as during this period the mines were not yet rediscovered. But, it is possible that Khande Rao Gaekwar might have inherited the Chalk Emerald from his predecessors, who acquired or received the gemstone as a gift from the Moghul Emperors.

Sayagi Rao Gaekwar III

Khande Rao Gaekwar was succeeded by his estranged brother Mulhar Rao who only reigned for a very short period from 1870 to 1875, and was forced to abdicate in 1875 by the British, after being found guilty of attempting to poison the British Resident Officer of Baroda Colonel Phayre with diamond dust. As their were no heirs to the throne of Baroda, the British adopted a twelve year old boy from another branch of the Gaekwar lineage, as successor, who ascended the throne as Sayagi Rao Gaekwar III, who ruled from 1875 to 1939. Sayagi Rao who was educated in England by the British, traveled extensively in Europe, and was exposed to the cultures of different nations, and after returning to Baroda adopted some measures which he experienced personally in these countries that would uplift the living standards of his people. In the field of education he established compulsory primary education, a library system and the Maharajah Sayajirao University of Baroda. He promoted the health care of his people, addressed social injustice, developed communication networks, and also established a museum in Baroda. He also set up textile factories that helped create the Baroda textile industry. He was one of the first Indian Princes who staunchly supported Indian nationalism and the idea of a free India. Thus, without any doubt, Sayagi Rao Gaekwar III became one of the most enlightened and greatest modern leaders of India. Sayagi Rao Gaekwar III was greatly assisted by his wife Chimnabai in the implementation of the progressive measures adopted by her husband.

Chimnabai had a great passion for gemstones, pearls and diamonds, and was a connoisseur and collector of these items. She had profound knowledge of jewels and traveled extensively in Europe, making purchases of jewels for her collection. She made all the purchasing decisions and used her knowledge to outwit the European jewelers when making purchases of diamonds and other gemstones such as emeralds, rubies etc. She built up a working relationship with the House of Cartier, and invited Jacques Cartier to India in 1911. Thus, it is quite possible that the extraordinary emerald that came to be known as the "Chalk Emerald" would have been purchased by Chimnabai during one of her trips to Europe after 1911, when the Chivor mine came into full production once again. The cut and polished emerald was incorporated into an emerald and diamond necklace in which it became the centerpiece.
Pratapsingh Rao
Sayagi Rao Gaekwar III was succeeded by his grandson Pratapsingh Rao (1939-47), who was the last Gaekwar of Baroda, before the Princely State was absorbed into the new Indian Republic created in 1947. Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad became very famous because he contracted a second marriage in 1943 to Sita Devi, wife of the Zamindar of Vayyur, while his first wife, the Maharani, who bore him four children was still living. It all happened when Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad attended the Madras races in 1943. He met and fell in love with a beautiful lady, the wife of the Zamindar of Vayyur, who reciprocated his advances. However, since both of them were already married there were many legal obstacles that had to be overcome before they could unite as man and wife. The first hurdle was for Sita Devi to obtain a divorce from her husband. But, to obtain a divorce from her husband without any valid reason was a difficult task.
Legal advisers to Sita Devi and the Maharaja put forward an ingenuous plan, that required Sita Devi to convert to the religion of Islam. After her conversion she invited her Zamindar husband to follow suit to reap the benefits of her new religion. The Hindu Zamindar husband was well aware of Sita Devi's intentions and did not even bother to react to this drama. A week later she filed for divorce from her Hindu husband under Islamic law that does not permit a Muslim woman to take a non-Muslim husband. The divorce was granted and she was free. Immediately after the divorce she converted herself back to Hinduism by Arya Samaj rights, and married her lover, Maharaj Pratapsingh Rao, in spite of the fact that he was already married with four children.

According to the law of Baroda State decreed by Sayagi Rao Gaekwar, the grandfather of Pratapsingh Rao, nobody in Baroda could take a second spouse if the earlier one was still alive and not divorced. The British Viceroy who was not happy about the farce that was enacted by the Maharaja, summoned him and informed him that he had violated the law of the State, to which the Maharaja replied that the laws forbidding bigamy were applicable only to his subjects, and he as the ruler was exempted from this ban. Legal opinion sought by the British favored the Maharaja, and thus his second marriage to Sita Devi was accepted as legal.

Maharani Sita Devi

Soon after the end of World War II, in 1946, Pratapsingh Rao took his second wife Sita Devi for a tour of Europe. The main purpose of their visit was to find a suitable country where they could set up a second home, and perhaps Maharani Sita Devi could take up permanent residence. After visiting many countries and seeing the ravages caused by the war, they found that the independent principality of Monaco which was untouched by the war was a suitable place to set up their second home. They bought a magnificent mansion in Monaco and Maharani Sita Devi took up permanent residence in this mansion. The Maharaja then moved cabin loads of the great treasures of Baroda State to his new home in Monaco and the Maharani became the custodian of these treasures. Prince Rainier of Monaco welcomed the Maharaja and Maharani, and helped them to set up home in his domain. The Maharaja was considered to be the 8th richest man in the world, and his presence in Monaco was a big boost to his country's image.
Just one year after in 1947, India became an independent republic, and the Princely State of Baroda joined the Indian Union. The Government of India took over the Baroda treasury and was shocked to find that all the valuable treasures were gone, and the treasury was virtually empty. The government attempted to force the Maharaja to bring back the stolen treasures, but the Maharaja only returned the famous 7-stranded necklace now reduced to six strands. Shortly afterwards the Maharaja was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, by his first wife. In Monaco, Maharani Sita Devi had taken full control of all the jewels and long before independence had got her husband to transfer the ownership of the jewels to her name. She also got the jewelry firm Van Cleef & Arpels based in Paris and New York, to remove the jewels from the old settings and remount them in new settings.


Thousands of old gemstones were remounted in this way. It is not known whether the Chalk Emerald was also one of the gemstones that was remounted in a new setting.

Maharani Sita Devi now became a celebrated figure in the west and was invited for many high society functions and gatherings. The western media now began to refer to her as India's Wallis Simpson. The original Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, had also swapped husbands like Maharani Sita Devi.

Meeting of the two Wallis Simpsons

Sita Devi who inherited a fortune of over $300 million settled down in comfort with her only son Princie, in her luxurious mansion in Monaco. Her Husband Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad visited them from India, several times in a year. Many stories are told about her high flying life style in Monaco, mingling with the rich and the powerful of the world. One such story refers to her attempts to make a call to her husband in India, when she was on a trip to the United States. She encountered difficulties in making the call from the U.S. and decided to fly across the Atlantic to London, to make her call to India, which she did, and then returned to the U.S. to continue her holiday.

Another interesting story concerns the meeting of the two Wallis Simpsons of the east and the west at a New York ball held in 1957. Harry Winston the "King of Jewelers" and "Jeweler to the Kings" based in New York, purchased a pair of anklets mounted with cabochon-cut emeralds and rose-cut diamonds, belonging to Maharani Sita Devi, in 1953. The expert jewelry designer that he was, Winston decided to remount the jewels of the anklet on a newly designed diamond choker, and sold the exquisitely crafted item to the Duchess of Windsor (former Wallis Simpson), who wore the choker to a New York ball held in 1957, which coincidentally was also attended by Maharani Sita Devi, the India's Wallis Simpson. Sita Devi was sharp enough to recognize the diamonds on the Duchess of Windsor's choker as the one's that once adorned her feet, mounted on the anklets, but she pretended not to know anything about it. At one point during the party, when the guests mesmerized by the beauty and size of the diamond choker were congratulating the Duchess on her recent acquisition, Sita Devi unable to bear it anymore commented loudly, that they had also looked very nice on her feet. The Duchess of Windsor seemed to be humiliated by this incident, and the very next day returned the diamond choker to Harry Winston.

The declining years of the Maharani

As time passed Sita Devi's glamour as well as her riches faded. Since the time she settled in Monaco, the Maharani had gone on an unprecedented spending spree, and her fortunes began declining as she continued to spend without an income to replenish her savings. Moreover, after her husband's kingdom acceded to join the Indian Union and the forceful abdication of her husband in favor of his son, all her sources of income dried up. Sita Devi then resorted to selling her expensive jewelry items secretly whenever she needed money. The selling of the diamond and emerald anklets to Harry Winston in 1953 was one such instance of a private sale. Perhaps, the necklace containing the Chalk Emerald as the centerpiece might also have been sold to Harry Winston during this period under similar circumstances.

Adding to the Maharani's woes was the estrangement between her and her husband Pratapsingh Rao which eventually led to separation and divorce in 1956. Pratapsingh Rao moved to London, where he took up residence and eventually died in exile in 1968. Sita Devi's financial situation worsened, and she was forced to pawn her more expensive jewels, which included the Hindu Necklace. But, this compounded her problems, as she was forced to pay an annual interest of $200,000. Finally the Maharani was forced to sell her jewels at a secret auction held in Monte Carlo in 1974, organized by Credit Mobilier of Monaco, and the sale netted her $4 million.

More misfortunes came her way, and in the year 1985 she lost her only son Princie after his 40th birthday, apparently by suicide, precipitated by alcoholism and drug addiction. The loss of her only son was too much for the aging Maharani to bear, and she too died the following year in 1986, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, at the age of 69 years.

Harry Winston resets the Chalk Emerald on a ring and sells it to Oscar Roy Chalk

Harry Winston who purchased the necklace in which the Chalk Emerald was the centerpiece, got the emerald slightly re-cut from its original weight of 38.40 carats to 37.82 carats, and set it as the centerpiece of an exquisitely crafted ring, surrounded by 60 pear-shaped diamonds, with a total weight of 15 carats. Mr. O. Roy Chalk then purchased the fabulous ring from Harry Winston and gifted it to his wife, Mrs. Claire Chalk, who wore the ring for a State Dinner at the White House, in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. Later in the year 1972, Mr. and Mrs. O. Roy Chalk, donated the extraordinary emerald ring to the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, and the ring came to be known as the "Chalk Emerald Ring." Today the "Chalk Emerald Ring" is exhibited in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals of the Smithsonian Institution.

A short biography of O. Roy Chalk

Oscar Roy Chalk was born in Britain on June 7, 1907, to a Russian-born father and Polish-born mother, who brought him to New York, America, when he was 3 years old. He grew up in the Bronx, and among his neighbors were George and Ira Gershwin. Chalk graduated from New York University and its Law School. He married Claire, the daughter of Nina and Jacob Cole. It was under Jacob Cole that Chalk received his first lessons about the real estate business. His business boomed and eventually he became the owner of several New York City apartment buildings.

From the real estate business he branched into the metropolitan transit business, acquiring the Washington D.C. transit system in 1955, and unsuccessfully attempting to purchase the New York transit system in 1959. He further expanded his business activities by entering the airline business, starting Trans Caribbean Airlines with two DC-3 aircraft. In the mid-1960's, the Trans Caribbean Airlines acquired the 800-mile rail line that transported bananas in Central America, known as the International Railways of Central America, and Mr. Chalk became its chairman. This railway company had been in the business of hauling bananas for the United Fruit Company for several decades. Later it is said that Mr. Chalk himself invested in the banana growing industry and owned a banana plantation for sometime. The Trans Caribbean Airlines was later sold to the American Airlines.

In the early 1960s he ventured into the publishing business, and started the tabloid newspaper "The Washington Examiner" which he promoted aggressively. The maiden issue of the newspaper was given free to the public, and he also ordered that free copies of the first issue be placed on all buses belonging to his transit system. This is a strategy that is still being adopted by most newspaper companies when they put out their maiden issue. Later Mr. Roy Chalk acquired two Spanish Language newspapers published in New York, El Diaro de Nueva York and La Prensa, and merged them into a single newspaper El Diaro La Prensa. The Newspaper was subsequently sold to the Gannett Company in 1981.

Mr. Chalk had residences in Manhattan, Washington and Palm Beach. He was a connoisseur and collector of artworks, and owned a collection of works by Renoir. In October 1954, Mr. Roy O. Chalk acquired the renowned painting by Nicholas Benjamin De La Pierre, "Portrait of a Seated Gentleman" executed in canvas in 1785, from Parke-Bennett Galleries in New York. His other interests included traveling, owning fancy cars, yachts, and plenty of clothes. He was fashion conscious, and dressed well to suit the occasion. He owned dozens of suits, with shirts, ties and shoes to match. His interests also included the promotion of cultural and charitable endeavors. He once sponsored a lavish ball at the Plaza Hotel in aid of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults.

His interests also reached an international dimension when he founded the American-Korean Foundation to foster closer ties between the people of the United States and South Korea. In recognition of his services to this foundation, the Government of South Korea not only gave him the National Medal of Honor, but also awarded him with an honorary citizenship, something Mr. Chalk cherished until his death. His other international commitment included the Chairmanship of the United Nations Finance Committee for several years, a vital body that generates and administers the funds of the World Organization.

His national responsibilities included, fund raiser for the Democratic Party in the 1960's, fund raiser for the United Negro College Fund, and serving as member of the Georgetown University Board of Regents.

Thus Mr. Oscar Roy Chalk, the son of immigrant parents to the United States, eventually turned out to be a great American citizen, who excelled in whatever field he chose to apply himself, be it in business enterprises, social services, or other national and international assignments.

Mr. Oscar Roy Chalk died from cancer in a New York hospital, on December 1, 1995, at the age of 88 years.

Mrs. Claire Chalk

Mrs. Claire Chalk was born on January 22, 1911, in New York, and was the daughter of Jacob and Nina Cole. She married Oscar Roy Chalk the young New York University Law Graduate, who was four years her senior. Her husband O. Roy Chalk was introduced to the real estate business, by her father, and he became so successful in his business, that within a short period he was the proud owner of several New York City apartment buildings.

Claire Chalk was Roy Chalk's constant companion and adviser and their joint effort helped them to diversify into multifarious business activities, such as mass transit bus companies, airlines, railways, and newspaper publishing, building up a successful business empire.

Besides assisting her husband in his business activities, Mrs. Claire Chalk took an active part in the work of several voluntary and humanitarian organizations, such as the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Retina Foundation, the Salvation Army, Good Samaritan and St. Mary's Medical Center, and the Animal Rescue League. Towards the latter part of her life, she lived mainly in her Palm Beach House, and was active in Palm Beach charity and society. Mrs. Claire Chalk is well known in the United States, as the owner of the renowned 37.82-carat Chalk Emerald Ring, exhibited in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, of the National Museum of Natural History, of the Smithsonian Institution. This webpage is entirely dedicated to this extraordinary ring. Mr. & Mrs. Chalk donated the Chalk Emerald Ring to the Smithsonian Institution in the year 1972. Mrs. Claire Chalk died on Monday, May 1, 2006, at the ripe old age of 95 years.

Origin of Name: The seven-stranded Baroda Pearl Necklace
The seven-stranded Baroda Pearl Necklace, one of the most extravagant pearl necklaces ever created, was the most expensive piece of jewelry in the fabulous collection of jewels and jewelry that once belonged to Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwad of Baroda, the 9th in the line of succession of 13 Gaekwad Maharajahs who ruled the Maratha Kingdom of Baroda, situated in the mid-west of the Indian sub-continent, 250 miles (400 km) from Mumbai. The Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwad has gone down in history as the greatest collector of jewels and jewelry in the 19th century, and some of the extraordinary pieces ascribed to his period of rule include, the famous seed pearl and jewel-encrusted carpet known as the "Pearl Carpet of Baroda," an ornamental belt of one hundred rows of pearls, a triple-tiered diamond necklace incorporating the 129-carat "Star of the South" diamond and the 78.53-carat "English Dresden diamond, as its centerpiece, known as the "Baroda Diamond Necklace," and the seven-stranded diamond and
emerald necklace known as the "Hindu Necklace." The seven-stranded pearl necklace also created during this period became internationally famous when a photograph of the 12th Gaekwad Maharajah Sayaji Rao III, the most enlightened of all the Gaekwad Maharajahs, wearing the pearl necklace appeared in the "Book of the Pearl" published in 1908 by George Frederick Kunz, and came to be known as the "Baroda Pearl Necklace."

Again during the period of the 13th and the last Gaekwad Maharajah, at the time India became an Independent republic, Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad, who ruled between 1939 and 1951, the necklace again gained international attention, when the Maharajah was photographed by Henri Cartier Bresson wearing the renowned necklace.

Characteristics of the Baroda Pearl Necklace

The original Baroda Pearl Necklace

The original Baroda Pearl Necklace that was commissioned by Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwad during the early years of his 14-year rule, between 1856 and 1870, was made up of seven strands of matching pearls in terms of size, shape, color, luster and surface quality. The shape of the pearls were spherical or near-spherical and the color was white. The pearls were apparently blemish-free, or contained minor blemishes not visible to the naked eye. The luster of the pearls were extraordinary in keeping with the good quality nacre that was thick and translucent. Little wonder that the luster of these pearls had remained undiminished during the last 150 years.

An approximation of the number of pearls in each of the strands of the necklace can be made by counting the number of pearls in the visible section of each strand in the photographs of Sayaji Rao III Gaekwad and Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad. Adding 15 pearls to the lowest three strands and 10 pearls to the remaining four upper strands, representing the approximate number of pearls on the rear side of the neck, we arrive at the approximate number of pearls in each strand, numbered from the lowest to the upper most strand.


Strand No 1 (lowest strand) - approximately 50 pearls + 15 pearls=65 pearls

Strand No 2 -approximately 45 pearls + 15 pearls=60 pearls

Strand No 3 -approximately 35 pearls + 15 pearls=50 pearls

Strand No 4 -approximately 30 pearls + 10 pearls=40 pearls

Strand No 5 -approximately 30 oearls + 10 pearls=40 pearls

Strand No 6 -approximately 30 pearls + 10 pearls=40 pearls

Strand No7 (upper most strand)-approximately 25 pearls+10 pearls=35 pearls

Total number of pearls (approximate) in the necklace =330 pearls

Thus the approximate range of the total number of pearls in the original Baroda Necklace = 300 to 350 pearls.

The seven-stranded pearl necklace is reduced to six strands

Most of the Baroda Crown Jewels were carried to the Monaco residence of Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao before India gained independence from the British in 1947. When the Government of India, issued an ultimatum to the Maharajah to return the crown jewels to the Baroda treasury or be removed from his position and consequently loose all princely privileges given by the government, the Maharajah did indeed return some of the more expensive pieces in the collection such as the Baroda three-tiered diamond necklace, containing the "Star of the South" diamond and the "English Dresden" diamond, and the Baroda Pearl Necklace. However, the Baroda Pearl Necklace was now reduced to six strands, from its original seven. It is not known whether it was the shortest or longest strand of the necklace that was missing.

Part of the missing Baroda Pearl Necklace appears at a Christie's auction in New York in April 2007

The renowned Baroda Pearl Necklace thus became part of the crown jewels of Baroda again and was kept in the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, the official residence of the royal family of Baroda. The fate of the Baroda Pearl Necklace since then is not known, but a two-stranded pearl necklace reconstituted from selected pearls of the original Baroda Pearl Necklace, suddenly made it appearance at a Christie's auction in New York in April 2007, and set a world record price of $7.1 million, the highest ever realized by a pearl necklace at an auction.

The reconstituted two-stranded Baroda Pearl Necklace

The original seven-stranded pearl necklace was made up of approximately 300 to 350 matching pearls of extraordinary quality, in terms of size, shape, color, luster and surface quality. The anonymous owner of the original Baroda Pearl Necklace got his jewelry designers, most probably Cartier's to select 68 of the finest and largest pearls from the original necklace, and reconstitute them as a two-stranded or two-tiered pearl necklace. The pearls were selected from the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th strands (It is not certain whether this numbering is from bottom to top as above or vice versa) of the original pearl necklace, and their sizes varied from 9.47 mm to 16.04 mm. The two-tiered pearl necklace consists of 33 pearls in the inner row and 35 pearls in the outer row, and the two rows are joined by a cushion-cut diamond Cartier clasp.

The pearls are all perfectly spherical, and each of the two rows as seen in the photograph, has the largest pearl placed at its lowest point along the median line, and pearls of matching size placed at symmetrical positions from the median line. The pearls progressively decrease in size as we move from the front towards the rear of the necklace, with the clasp. Thus the reconstituted two-stranded Baroda Pearl Necklace is made up of the most perfect of perfect spherical pearls from the original Baroda Pearl necklace, and is also matched perfectly for size and shape, making it one of the most perfectly designed pearl necklaces in the world. It is a combination of perfect quality, designing and historical provenance that has made the reconstituted Baroda Pearl Necklace, one of the most expensive pearl necklaces in the world today.

History of the Baroda Pearl Necklace

The source of the pearls in the Baroda Pearl Necklace

The Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar

Given the fact that the necklace originated in the mid-19th century, the most possible sources of the Baroda Pearls are the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, the hub of the international pearl trade since ancient times, save for a short period in the 16th and 17th centuries when the emphasis shifted to the lands of the New World colonized by the Spanish Conquistadors, such as Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico. Due to intensive exploitation by the Spanish the pearl oyster beds of Venezuela and Panama were totally exhausted in the mid-17th century barely a century and a half after they were first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1498 in Venezuela. From the mid-17th century onwards, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar once again regained their prominence as the center of the international pearl industry.

Sustainable exploitation of pearl oyster resources in the Persian Gulf

In this part of the world the Spanish colonialists did not make much headway, but yet the region came under the sway of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British colonialists. However, the Portuguese, Dutch and British did not have a free hand in exploiting the pearl resources of this region, as the Spanish had in the New World. All aspects of the pearl industry, such as diving, processing and marketing were in the hand of indigenous people of the region, who had been practicing sustainable exploitation of the resources, for thousands of years, without any threat of decimation of the pearl oyster beds in the region. The colonialists exerted an indirect control over the trade, by imposing taxes, collecting license fees or taking a share of the harvest. Thus the Persian Gulf pearl industry survived up to the early 20th century, without any significant decline in production, until Mikimoto's cultured pearls that entered the international pearl markets in the 1920s-1930s, caused the unfortunate death of this ancient industry, bringing untold misery and hardship to thousands of people engaged in this traditional industry.

Exploitation of pearl oyster resources in the Gulf of Mannar during the colonial period

In the Gulf of Mannar, the situation fluctuated during the period of rule of different colonialists. When the Portuguese were at the helm of the affairs in this region, in the 16th century, they exerted a more direct control on the pearl trade. However, they were more successful only on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, where the Portuguese evangelists led by St. Francis Xavier successfully converted an entire ethnic group of the South Indian coast to Roman Catholicism, known as the "Parawas" who were traditionally employed in the pearl fishing trade on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar. On the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar, the Portuguese policies were a dismal failure, as the policy of evangelization was bitterly resisted by the indigenous population, especially the Tamil Hindus of the Jaffna Kingdom, under whose domain the lucrative pearl banks were situated, whose mighty ruler King Sankili I (1519-1561) massacred 600-700 Parawa Catholics brought by the Portuguese from the Indian side of the Gulf, to exploit the pearl resources on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf. Sankili I, successfully resisted Portuguese colonization till his death in 1561. Even during the time of Sankili I's successors the Portuguese could not make much headway, until the year 1619, when the Portuguese finally captured Jaffna. The Portuguese colonialists went on the rampage in Jaffna to avenge their former defeats at the hand of the Tamil Hindus, killing, and maiming innocent populations, and destroying their ancient places of worship. All the Hindu temples in the Jaffna Peninsula were raised to the ground by the Portuguese colonialists, demonstrating their traditional intolerance towards other religions, and perhaps under the misplaced notion that their beliefs represented the only true beliefs in the world. The behavior of the Portuguese in Jaffna after its capture in 1619, seem to have many parallels in the atrocities committed by the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez in the New World in the 16th century against its indigenous people.

During the Dutch period in the 18th century pearl fishing rights in the Gulf of Mannar on the Sri Lankan side was rented out to private entrepreneurs on an annual basis. The British colonialists who came in after the Dutch towards the end of the 18th century, initially followed the Dutch system of renting out pearl fishing rights annually, but later took a direct part in pearl fishing by employing pearl divers and boats and taking two-third of the harvest, while giving one-third to the pearl divers and the boat owners. The whole fishery was supervised by the government, which sold its share of the pearl oysters by public auction. Intensive exploitation of the pearl banks led to depletion of resources, and eventually pearling in the Gulf of Mannar was abandoned by the British at the beginning of the 20th century.

Pearls used in the Baroda Pearl Necklace and the Pearl Carpet of Baroda originated in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar

Most of the pearls harvested in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, in the 16th to 19th centuries found their way to the lucrative pearl market in Bombay where the merchants received much higher prices for their products than the London market. During the height of the Mughal period in India from 1526 to 1707, almost all the pearls produced in this region, entered the courts of the Mughal Empire in Agra and Delhi. With the decline of the Mughal Empire after Aurangzeb in 1707, several independent kingdoms were established in different parts of India, ruled by powerful Maharajahs. The Maratha kingdom set up by Maharaj Chattrapati Shivaji and the Kingdom of Hyderabad founded by Asaf Jah, Mir Qamar-ud-Din in 1724 were two of the powerful kingdoms that were established. The Kingdom of Baroda was founded in 1732, when the Marathi General Pilaji Rao Gaekwad conquered Baroda City from the Mughal Empire. The Kingdom of Baroda and the Kingdom of Hyderabad were two of the kingdoms that aligned themselves with the British colonialists, and thus received their protection and were granted internal autonomy, in return for recognizing British suzerainty. These two kingdoms eventually turned out to be the richest kingdoms in India, and their rulers also lavished large sums of money in the purchase of high quality pearls from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar. Khande Rao Gaekwad, the 10th Maharajah of Baroda also made lavish purchases of pearls originating from these regions, which were incorporated in the fabulous pieces of jewelry such as the Baroda Pearl Necklace, that was produced during this period. The large number of seed pearls incorporated in the Baroda Pearl Carpet, another creation of this period, also came from this region.

Pinctada radiata the oyster that produced the Baroda Pearls

Pinctada radiata, part of a globally distributed species complex ?

Pinctada radiata, the Gulf Pearl Oyster was the main pearl oyster species found in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, around which the natural pearl industry was built since ancient times. The species is also found in other geographic locations such as the Caribbean coasts of Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, Southern Atlantic coast of the United States, Northern coast of Brazil and Bermuda, where it is known as the Atlantic pearl oyster (Pinctada imbricata). Other geographic locations where the species is found is the Indo-Pacific regions of China, Japan and Korea, where it is known as Pinctada fucata and Pinctada martensii, and Australia. According to modern scientific evidence based on the study of DNA profiles, the four Pinctada species found in different geographic regions of the world, radiata, imbricata, fucata and martensii, which were originally thought to be different species, based on minor morphological and anatomical differences, are now considered to be a species complex, known as fucata/imbricata/martensii/radiata species complex. The complex represents a cosmopolitan, globally distributed species, characterized by substantial intraspecific variation over its range. Thus the Gulf pearl oyster Pinctada radiata, the Atlantic pearl oyster Pinctada imbricata and the Indo-Pacific pearl oysters Pinctada fucata and Pinctada martensii belong to the same species in spite of their widely separated habitats.

Some characteristics of Pinctada radiata

Pinctada radiata in the Gulf of Mannar, has pale yellow shells, with 7 to 8 brownish radial bands, and a slightly pinkish lip. The average length of the shells is 7 to 8 cm. The Persian Gulf variety of the species, is larger, darker and has a reddish lip. The nacre color is usually white, cream or light pink. Rarely the color of the nacre can be yellow, brown or violet. The average life span of the oysters is 7 to 8 years. The species is well known for producing seed pearls (< 2mm in diameter). The approximately 1.5 million seed pearls used in the Baroda Pearl Carpet originated from Pinctada radiata species of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar. But the species also produces pearls of medium size and larger pearls varying in size from 9 to 16 mm, as seen in the reconstituted Baroda Pearl Necklace. Pinctada radiata is found in clusters attached to rocks and other hard surfaces by byssal threads at depths of 10-20 meters.

The extravagance of Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwar

Khande Rao Gaekwad, the greatest collector of jewels in the 19th century

In a discussion of the history of any famous jewelry piece that once belonged to the Baroda Crown Jewels, like the Baroda Pearl Necklace, the main character that invariably emerges is Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwad, the 10th Gaekwar Maharajah that ruled the kingdom of Baroda from 1856 to 1870. The obvious reason for this was that most of the renowned pieces of jewelry belonging to the Baroda Crown Jewels, known today, originated during his period of rule. Khande Rao Gaekwad has gone down in the history of the Baroda Kingdom for his most lavish and extravagant spending habits, investing heavily on jewels and jewelry. He was reputed to be the greatest collector of jewels and jewelry in the 19th century. He acquired the 128.48-carat, "Star of the South" diamond, an exceptional quality Brazilian diamond for £80,000, and organized a massive celebration to welcome the diamond to Baroda soil, that included a parade of elephants dressed in their finest gilded arrays. Subsequently he purchased the 76.5-carat, drop-shaped "English Dresden" diamond reputedly for a sum of around £40,000. He then got both diamonds incorporated as the centerpiece of a three-tiered diamond necklace, that came to be known as the "Baroda Diamond Necklace." Another piece that is attributed to his period of rule, is the seven-stranded magnificent diamond and emerald ceremonial necklace, known as the "Hindu Necklace."

George Frederick Kunz estimated the value of the Baroda Pearl Necklace to be around $500,000 in 1908

However, the piece that represents the peak of his extravagance was undoubtedly what is known today as the "Pearl Carpet of Baroda," which is believed to be actually one of four such carpets that was to form a canopy over the tomb of Prophet Muhammad at Medina, a pet project of the maharajah, probably in fulfillment of a vow he had undertaken for prayers answered. The four gold posts that was to serve as supports for the canopy, were in the process of being manufactured, when the Maharajah died. His successor Malhar Rao Gaekwad did not share his enthusiasm for the project and the carpets remained in Baroda. George Frederick Kunz in his book "The Book of the Pearls" published in 1908, states that the "Pearl Carpet of Baroda" is probably the most costly pearl ornament in the world, its value being estimated at several million dollars. Kunz estimates the total value of the treasures held by the Gaekwar of Baroda at $12 million in 1908, and places an estimate of half-a-million dollars on the Baroda Pearl Necklace, made up of seven rows of superb pearls.

The riches of the Baroda treasury exposed to the outside world by Sayaji Rao III

The Baroda Pearl Necklace together with the other crown jewels of Baroda, was then inherited by Malhar Rao Gaekwad (1870-75), who was forced to abdicate his throne in favor of the young Sayaji Rao III, from a different lineage of the Gaekwar family, after his purported involvement in a plot to poison the British Resident Colonel Phayre. Sayaji Rao III (1875-1939), who was educated in England and exposed to life in Europe during his extensive travels, was the most enlightened of all the Gaekwar Maharajahs, and introduced some of the advances he had observed in these countries to the development of his own domain, and Baroda became one of the most developed Princely States in India. G. F. Kunz's "The Book of the Pearls" published a photograph of Sayaji Rao III Gaekwad wearing the renowned seven-stranded Baroda Pearl Necklace. However, Sayaji Rao III rarely adorned any of the enormous collection of jewels at his disposal, and it was through him the outside world came to know about the enormous treasures held by the Baroda Crown. In 1909, Sayyaji Rao III, took his guest Reverend Weeden on a tour of the Baroda State Treasury, underneath the Nazr Bagh Palace. The Reverend was simply overwhelmed with the vast amounts of silver, gold and jewels he saw, stored in the vault, and also reported seeing bejeweled vessels and ornamentation, crammed into every nook of the guarded vault.

Most of the Baroda crown jewels including the Baroda Pearl Necklace are transferred to the Monaco residence of Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad

The treasures including the Baroda Pearl Necklace, was then inherited by Sayaji Rao's grandson Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad (1939-51) in 1939, who became famous for breaking with tradition and taking a second wife, Maharani Sita Devi in 1943, while his first wife was still living. After World War II in 1946, Maharani Sita Devi relocated to the independent principality of Monaco, in Europe, where the Maharajah purchased a magnificent mansion for her, and most of the crown jewels of Baroda were eventually moved to this overseas palace of the Maharajah. It was while in Monaco that Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao was photographed by Henri Cartier Bresson wearing the seven-stranded pearl necklace, during a formal occasion in the Monaco palace.

The Baroda Pearl Necklace is returned to the Baroda treasury together with some other valuable pieces of jewelry

In 1947, when India gained independence, the Princely State of Baroda acceded to the Indian Union, and became part of the newly created Bombay State. The Government of India took over the Baroda treasury, and was shocked to find that the treasury was virtually empty, and all the valuable treasures gone. The government issued an ultimatum to the former Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad, to return all the stolen treasures of Baroda, now in the custody of his second wife Maharani Sita Devi in Monaco, or choose abdication in favor of his son by his first wife and loose all princely privileges. The Maharajah then returned some of the jewels, that included the Baroda Pearl Necklace and the three-tiered diamond necklace containing the "Star of the South" diamond and the "English Dresden" diamond; two of the most expensive pieces of jewelry in the collection. The seven-stranded pearl necklace however, was now reduced to a six-stranded necklace. In spite of the return of some of the treasures in the Baroda treasury, Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad was asked to abdicate in favor of his son by his first wife, in 1951, mainly because of the anti-Indian stance taken by him while living abroad. The maharajah then returned to his European residence in Monaco.

The sudden appearance of the reconstituted Baroda Pearl Necklace in April 2007 at a Christie's auction in New York

The Baroda Pearl necklace that entered the treasury of the Lakshmi Villas Palace was not heard of again, until it reappeared at a Christie's "Magnificent Jewels" sale, in New York on April 25, 2007, in a reconstituted form containing only two-strands. The auction house maintained the anonymity of the owner of the necklace as well as its purchaser at the auctions, said to be an Asian private collector, who bid by telephone. The necklace fetched a record price of $7.1 million, the highest price ever paid for a natural pearl necklace at an auction, and in keeping with the pre-sale estimate of $7 million to $ 9 million. The previous record was set by another two-strand natural pearl necklace which sold for $3.1 million at a Christie's auction in Geneva, in November 2004. The Christie's "Magnificent Jewels" sale, netted a total of $39.1 million, and also included a 22.66-carat Kashmir blue sapphire, belonging to the Minnesota Historical Society, that sold for $3.1 million, the highest price ever paid for a blue sapphire at an auction. The two-strand Baroda pearl necklace was actually a part of an entire suite of pearl jewelry that also included a matching pair of natural pearl and diamond ear pendants, a brooch and a ring.

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Related :-

1) Chalk Emerald Ring

2) Baroda Pearl Carpet

3) Star of the South Diamond

4) English Dresden Diamond

External Links :-

Christie's to offer the most important pearl necklace ever seen at auction - Christie's Press Release

Baroda Pearls sell for record price - www.modernjeweler.com

References :-

1) The Book of the Pearl - G. F. Kunz, Pearls of the Gaekwar of Baroda, pp 460

2) Pinctada radiata - www.pearl-guide.com

3) Business Standard - Missing Baroda Pearls at Christie's - Kishore Singh, March 24, 2007

4) Gaekwad - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

5) Christie's to offer the most important pearl necklace ever seen at auction - Christie's Press Release

6) Baroda Pearls sell for record price - www.modernjeweler.com

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