When the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahboob Ali Khan first saw the Jacob diamond, it didn’t excite him as he anticipated it would. Unimpressed, he asked back the advance of 2.2 million rupees he had given Alexander Malcolm Jacob for the stone. Jacob refused and out of this refusal was born a long and bitter fight for the diamond which the succeeding Nizam used as a paperweight. But in India, men have always fought for natural diamonds, and how. And while Marilyn Monroe might think that ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, all we have to do is look at India, its men and the history of diamonds to know that they are also a ‘man’s best friend’. And have been for centuries.
From the mines of Golconda came the world’s biggest and most wholesome natural diamonds. Resembling celestial cubes of ice, they were the love, want, envy and the insatiability of the Mughals and Maharajas alike. After all they weren’t just mere accoutrements of power but cyphers of pageantry and costume. Adding value and wielding sovereignty by their mere presence. It is then no revelation that a potent ruler like Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who preferred to dress simply, wore the Koh-i-Noor on his arm. Diamonds were and are no ordinary stones. A stylish, powerful and a serious statement is an all too easy task for a diamond.
India has always associated precious stones with more than just eminence. Ciphers of astrological protection and planetary stability, shining brilliantly over their patron while offering ‘divine shield.’ Diamonds and gems were more than just friends. They were celestial soldiers.
The tradition of wearing natural diamonds in India finds its roots in antiquity. For the splendidly rich, ropes of pearls, emeralds, rubies and sapphires along with dripping diamonds in gold was de rigueur. And it was the men who were often seen dazzling in most important and the striking pieces of jewellery. Not the women. For they were true emblems of power, prosperity and stateliness.
Considered the highest form of dress, the gems and the gentlemen who wore it were truly iconic and extraordinary. From Yeshwant Rao II Holkar of Indore who wore two large natural pear-shaped diamonds weighing around 47 carats each from the mines of Golconda to the exceedingly grand Maharaja of Patiala who wore ropes of platinum encrusted with natural diamonds. Egyptian Pharaohs to Roman emperors and Mughal monarchs to the modern Maharajas of the 19th century, the diamond has been embraced in many shapes and form. Inlaid in aigrettes which were the envy of the gods, to rings, necklaces and massive mukuts (crowns) for the divine and their earthly counterparts, to being used as mere decorative paper weights, these ethereal stones are spells that have beheld men. Shah Jahan was an authority on gem stones without an equal. Proving yet again that men and jewellery are not an oxymoron.
In the world of contemporary design natural diamonds have made their presence felt with an equal and consummate flair. It is therefore no surprise that when a fecund designer like Viren Bhagat touches a diamond, it becomes a slice of art. Bereft of the gender that owns and designs it, every piece is a stroke of coveted genius. Natural diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds – none can resist the charm of the man who like the Mughal emperor.
From Karl Lagerfeld’s natural diamond brooches by the iconic design maverick Suzanne Belperron, which were only trumped by Liberace’s coin rings studded with diamonds, men and these glorious gems have been inseparable allies since one can remember. The 2022 Grammys saw the likes of Nas pairing a bunch of diamonds with his double breasted suit and Giveon wearing a host of diamond necklaces including a classic Chanel diamond pendant on a pearl and diamond chain. But who stole the shine (along with 5 Grammys), was Jon Batiste in a Jack de Boucheron diamond wrap choker over his Dolce Gabbana suit. Closer to home, on Koffee with Karan Season 7, Bollywood tzar Ranveer Singh was seen in bulb sized natural diamond solitaire earrings. When asked if he believed diamonds are “only a girl’s best friend,” Ranveer pointed at his earrings and said, “Not at all!” He went on to reveal, “Though I whacked these off my mummy. But like a good son, I bought her bigger ones.” All modern maharajas in their own right.
From east to the west and beyond, the great gems of earth have been chronicles of their times. Regardless of who wore them, great jewels have always accentuated the power, presence and personality of its muse. Giving birth to an heirloom is no easy task, nonetheless it’s amazing how tranquil it all seems with a diamond. The brightest shining brilliance in the firmament of forever.