Saffronart’s Co-Founder Minal Vazirani says that the auction house’s high-profile October jewellery biennial will focus on the exchange of material and cultural legacies across borders in ancient India.
In June, this year, the Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence auction of royal Indian jewellery at Christie’s New York totalled $109 million. A jadehilted dagger of emperor Shah Jahan was sold for `23.4 crore, setting the record for the highest value of a Shah Jahan jade object. The Nizam’s sword was sold for `13.4 crore, making it the highest-selling Indian sword. The 400 other pieces were fine Mughal jewels encrusted with real diamonds and gemstones.
Heritage Indian jewellery is in great demand in the secondary market and desired by, both, Indian and foreign collectors. The interest has piqued, but much must be learnt about the centuries-old Indian jewellery industry.
In 2017, Indian auction house Saffronart organised a one-of-its-kind international jewellery symposium in the country, a scholarly avenue to learn about the legacy of Indian jewellery. This year, on October 11 and 12, the auction house will hold its second biennial titled, Mapping a Legacy of Indian Jewels, which focuses on geographies and exchange of material and cultural legacies across borders.
The topics vary from jewellery and gem trade in Portuguese Goa to a history of the diamond trade and important coloured diamonds and the jewelled history of South India rooted in royal patronage. Usha Balakrishnan, cultural capital consultant and jewellery historian has curated the symposium, which will be graced by Viren Bhagat, a renowned designer; Hugo Crespo, art historian and author; Lisa Hubbard, international jewellery specialist, former Jewellery Chairman of the Americas for Sotheby’s and current senior advisor to Christie’s jewellery department; Joanna Hardy, international jewellery specialist; Cynthia Meera Frederick, Chief Advisor to the Maharaja of Kapurthala; Jack Ogden, jewellery historian; Vincent Meylan, jewellery specialist and author; Wendell Rodricks, international fashion designer and author; Deepthi Sasidharan, Director of Eka Archiving Services; and Manu Pillai, journalist and author.
We discuss with Saffronart’s President and Co-Founder Minal Vazirani the aim of the event and the market for Indian heritage jewels.
Why did you decide to organise a jewellery symposium?
Our aim with this interdisciplinary conference is to highlight India’s significant role and rich legacy in jewellery craftsmanship and design, trade, and the sourcing, mining and cutting of valuable gemstones. The last conference demonstrated that there is a tremendous desire among collectors and connoisseurs to explore and learn about this history.
How is Indian jewellery faring in the secondary market?
The secondary market has been growing as historic vintage pieces come up for sale, and will continue to evolve in the future. In general, India has grown as a luxury market and there is continued demand for various categories of jewellery – traditional, fusion and contemporary – often governed by occasions and festivals.
What kind of jewellery do Indian collectors prefer?
Traditional gemstones such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires as well as period jewellery are timeless. Good quality is always coveted. An auction featuring pieces from important periods in design history, with documented provenance, is a big draw for collectors. Coloured and semi-precious stones such as morganites, Paraíba tourmalines and Padparadscha sapphires are a growing trend in India and internationally.
What challenges did you face while collecting and then auctioning jewellery in India?
Curating a jewellery auction involves an ongoing and elaborate
process that includes evaluating the design technique/craftsmanship, certification, value and historical significance of a piece. The main challenges are research and pricing while creating a collection of consistent quality, which offers diverse choices in various price points. Significantly, these factors coalesce into the story that each piece tells. Moreover, the current duty and tax structure, and rules and regulations inhibit, both, import and export.
How big is the Indian jewellery auction market?
Given the long legacy of mining and cutting gemstones, as well as innovative jewellery design techniques and history of adornment, India is considered one of the most sophisticated jewellery markets in the world. The largest jewellery auctions used to take place in Europe and the US, but have now shifted to the Far East.
Which are the top three pieces sold at Saffronart auctions?
In October 2015, Saffronart sold a diamond necklace, featuring three rows of rose-cut diamonds and links with a peacock motif, for just under `3 crore in our online sale of fine jewels and silver. Among pearls, the top sales include a natural pearl neckpiece with a seven-strand cascade, which sold for approximately `1.1 crore in our first jewellery auction in 2008, and a three-string necklace made of natural pearls was sold for `1 crore in 2009.