A pair of rare bejewelled spectacles from an unknown princely treasury from 17th century Mughal era in India will be offered at auction for the first time, with estimates of GBP 1.5 million and GBP 2.5 million each, Sotheby’s London has announced.
The diamond pair of glasses, named the Halo of Light, and the emerald pair, named the Gate of Paradise, will go on display at Sotheby’s London from 22 October in the lead up to their auction at the Arts of the Islamic World & India sale on 27 October.
“These extraordinary curiosities bring together myriad threads – from the technical mastery of the cutter and the genius of craftsmanship to the vision of a patron who chose to fashion two pairs of eyeglasses quite unlike anything ever seen before,” said Edward Gibbs, chair, Sotheby’s Middle East & India.
“They are undoubtedly a marvel for gemologists and historians alike, and it is a real thrill to be able to bring these treasures to light and to offer the world the opportunity to wonder at their brilliance and the mystery behind their creation,” he said.
The story of the unique spectacles begins in 17th century Mughal India, at a time when imperial wealth, scientific knowledge and artistic endeavour all simultaneously reached their peak. Commissioned by an unknown prince, an artist shaped a diamond, weighing over 200 carats, and a brilliant emerald, weighing at least three hundred carats, into two masterpieces. Testament to the technical skill involved, no comparable example of either is known to exist. In 1890, the lenses were placed in new frames, decorated with rose-cut diamonds.
The original patron for whom these extraordinary spectacles were commissioned remains unknown, but they stem from a rich period of artistic and architectural achievement during the Great Mughal reigns of emperors Akbar (1556–1605), Jahangir (1605–1627), Shah Jahan (1627–1658) and Aurangzeb (1658–1707).
“The quality and purity of the gemstones is itself extraordinary and stones of this size would no doubt have been the reserve of an emperor. The diamonds are flawless, thought to be from the mines of Golconda in Southern India,” Sotheby’s experts note.
“Cleaved as a pair from a single natural diamond – possibly the largest ever found – they now together weigh 25 carats. The faceting around the edge displays extreme skill, arranged to hold transparency in the lenses while releasing light from the edges. The teardrop-shaped emeralds also originate from a single natural Colombian emerald, and now weigh twenty-seven carats. The bevelling of the emeralds has been precisely angled to hold the intensity of the colour in the stone,” they add.
According to legends of the time, while ordinary lenses merely function to improve sight, these filters were aids for spiritual enlightenment – with diamonds thought to illuminate and emeralds believed to have held miraculous powers to heal and to ward off evil.
In India, legend has it that following the tragic death of Shah Jahan’s beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, in whose honour the Taj Mahal was built, the emperor is said to have cried so many tears that he needed to cure his ailing eyes with emerald stones.