Saffronart’s inaugural jewellery conference, The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels, concluded in Mumbai on Saturday night. The conference, which was part of Saffronart’s ongoing Dialogues in Art series, was held on 6 and 7 October.
Listen to the podcast to revisit highlights from the conference.


Saffronart Co-founder Minal Vazirani welcomes speakers and participants to the conference.

Listen to Minal Vazirani:

Jacob: The Largest Diamond in India’s Crown

The conference opened with a discussion by Usha Balakrishnan and John Zubrzycki on the Jacob Diamond. Balakrishnan focused on the physical characteristics of the diamond, the largest in India’s crown, while Zubrzycki, who wrote The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy, shed light on the infamous gem dealer with enthralling anecdotes and imagery.

Listen to Usha Balakrishnan:

Listen to John Zubrzycki:

Cartier’s India Connection: Maharajas and the Tutti Frutti Jewels Seen from a Family Perspective

Francesca Cartier Brickell of the Cartier family delved into her family archives, sharing stories from the unpublished letters and diaries of her great-grandfather, Jacques Cartier. She gave an intimate glimpse into Jacques’ role in bringing Cartier to international fame, and his connection to India, the jewels he designed for maharajas and royal clients, and the reciprocal interest of the West in Indian designs, such as the famous Tutti Frutti style.

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The Great Beauty: Exemplars of India’s Legacy

Moderated by Alexander Popov, Chairman of the World Diamond Museum and President of the Moscow Diamond Bourse, this session began with Usha Balakrishnan, where she drew references to important pieces of jewellery from history, mythology, literature and art. From ancient inscriptions in South India, to Emperor Jahangir’s diaries, and miniatures replete with ornamented maidens, the jewellery she selected gave an overview of history and culture in India.

Listen to Usha Balakrishnan:

Dissolving Boundaries: Enamelled Brocades and Painted Jewels from Banaras (Varanasi)

Following Balakrishnan was Anjan Chakraverty who brought the dying art of Benarasi enamelling to the limelight, highlighting the ancient city of Benaras as a crucible of inspiration for textiles and jewellery alike. He retraced the journeys of master artists who travelled from Isfahan in Persia, to Lucknow in North India, and the exchange of ideas between designers and weavers that ultimately crystallised in Benaras, giving birth to a unique art form.

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The Mystique of Golconda: The Diamond

Moderated by Nirupa Bhatt, the Managing Director of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) for India and the Middle East, the second session was led by Tom Moses where he delved into the history of Golconda diamonds, their incomparable size and quality, and some of the most exceptional diamonds this legendary region produced.

Listen to Tom Moses:

Diamond Jewellery before Diamond Cutting

Taking us back in time over 500 years, Derek Content showed us how jewellery was made using diamonds in their natural, found state, before the invention of diamond cutting and faceting in the 15th century. Despite their rough appearance, these diamonds were prized in many cultures, and Content explained why.

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Collecting the al-Sabah Collection: Precious Indian Weapons in the al-Sabah Collection

Chaired by Saffronart CEO Hugo Weihe, the third session began with an enlightening presentation by Salam Kaoukji, curator of the al-Sabah collection, Kuwait, where she took the audience through its stunning collection. Each piece, which had been collected by Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah, was a marvel in design and technique. Using arresting visuals, Kaoukji showed how these weapons and accoutrements, essential to court etiquette, were equally on par with other jewelled arts in style and technique, particularly the distinctive art of gemstone setting, carving and enamelling techniques in Indian weaponry.

Listen to Salam Kaoukji:

Jewels and Mughal Court Ritual

Taking the audience into the opulent jewels of the Mughal era, Susan Stronge of the V&A Museum in London tapped into the museum’s own collection of Mughal miniature paintings and jewellery. Stronge used examples that showed the Mughals as connoisseurs of art and jewellery, showing how jewellery was customised depending on the tastes of rulers, and how styles changed depending on the region.

Listen to Susan Stronge:

First Water for Finial: The Sovereign Golconda

Pramod Kumar K G of Éka Archiving Services also spoke about Golconda diamonds, and how their breathtaking beauty inevitably attracted the attention of many royals and monarchs across India, whose patronage was instrumental in elevating their hallowed status in our collective history and consciousness.

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Is All That Glitters Really Gold? Jewels Worth Collecting

Lisa Hubbard, a veteran auctioneer who is currently a Senior Advisor to Christie’s Jewellery Department, initiated an engaging and powerful discussion on what makes some jewellery more important than others. Referring to cascading necklaces, tiaras and important coloured diamonds, she drew references to pieces that achieved records at auction, such as the Cartier Panther Jewel—“It was and is a marvel of a jeweller’s art,”—and the Blue Moon of Josephine, a vivid blue diamond that sold at a record $48 million at auction in 2015.

Listen to Lisa Hubbard:

Inspiring India, Inspired by India: Indian DNA in Jewellery

Francois Arpels engaged the audience with hallmark jewellery pieces designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, and explored India as a source of inspiration for design.

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Royal Patronage, Enduring Grace: The Gaekwad Legacy

Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad, the final speaker of the session, brought the conference to a close with a royal touch. Sharing images of the Royal Family of Baroda, some of which had never been seen before, she spoke of the unparalleled collection of jewels acquired by her ancestors.

Listen to Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad:

Listen to the Q&A: