Exiting via the gift shop is always a pleasure at the V&A, the trinkets on offer are always well-priced and appealing. What will happen to the Swarovski crystal buttons that I felt compelled to buy after the Alexander McQueen exhibition remains a mystery but they are very lovely. Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani, first cousin of the Emir of Qatar, had a similar reaction when he went to the Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts exhibition in 2009. He was so taken with the jewels and craftsmanship on show that he determined to acquire some for himself. Now he has a splendid collection of gems, jewels and objects covering 400 years of Mughal-influenced bling and has kindly lent more than 100 of his finest pieces to the V&A for this exhibition.
Any self-respecting Mughal court would have a collection of loose gemstones of spectacular size. We see rubies the size of hens eggs and emeralds polished as if they had been a stone tumbler left over from the seventies, no fancy facet cuts here. We’ve all heard of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds but I confess that if you had asked me what a spinel was I would have hazarded a guess at a small dog. Turns out that a spinel is a red stone mined in Badakhshan in central Asia and the Mughal emperors of the 16th and 17th centuries valued them above all other stones. One fine necklace of pearls and spinels the size of beach pebbles, has a spinel engraved with a tiny inscription to the Mughal emperor Akbar who ruled from 1556 to 1605.
Slowly the craftsmen began to work for customers outside the court and their skill began to be admired in Europe. On display are pieces from jewelers like Cartier which are heavily influenced by the Mughal setting of stones and intricate enamel work. Not everything is antique: at the end of the exhibition diamond earrings made in 2013 seem to float in their case, so fine is the setting. Maybe if save my pennies I might be able to commission the jeweler to make me a pair!
Not only are the Bejewelled Treasures on display beautiful, the staging of this exhibition is a work of art in itself. You feel as if you step into a jewel box, to walk around. Baubles that you can’t touch can sometimes look flat but here they look sparkling and all too covetable.
BEJEWELLED TREASURES: THE AL THANI COLLECTION 21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016
Victoria and Albert Museum
Admission: Adults £10, Senior Citizens £8, concessions and family tickets available
Under 12’s and Members go free.