A gold necklace with large diamonds and emeralds
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Collection Highlight: A Show-Stopping Necklace

1 August 2023

By Loubna Zeidan

The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) is home to many extraordinary pieces of jewellery, but one necklace stands out among the rest.

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Known simply as the ‘Varanasi-style’ necklace, due to its delicate and distinctive pink and white enamelwork, this stunning example of Mughal-era jewellery is on display in MIA’s Gallery 16 alongside other treasures of imperial South Asia.

The Mughal Dynasty (1526–1858 CE) ruled over most of northern India for nearly 300 years. During this period, India experienced significant cultural and artistic developments and, through a masterful blend of Persian, Indian and Central Asian influences, a unique artistic style emerged. Within the Mughal tradition, jewellery played an integral role in expressing authority.

This necklace, produced in the 13th century AH/19th century CE, was most likely given as a marriage or diplomatic gift from an Indian noble to a member of the royal family of Nepal.

Diamond necklace with emeralds

The Varanasi-style necklace was most likely given as a marriage or diplomatic gift. Photo © Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Throughout the 19th century, many Rajput rulers in India — born into Hindu warrior families that emerged around the 6th century — married into the noble Rana family, a dynasty that held power in neighbouring Nepal from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Rana rulers maintained a close relationship with the British Raj in India and further solidified their political ties through this practice of intermarriage, which not only created familial bonds but also fostered an artistic and material exchange between the two regions.

The Varanasi-style necklace is composed of seventeen brilliant-cut, triangular-shaped diamonds suspended with gold-collared emeralds of Colombian origin, surmounted by baroque pearls. The diamond-drops, increasing in size towards the centre, are linked together by strands of diamond set beads. The reverse sides of the beads are decorated with white enamel flowers and gulabi mina, a delicate pink enamel which gets its name from the Persian gulab, meaning ‘rose’ — both elements are typical of the Varanasi style.

A gold necklace with large diamonds and emeralds

When reversed, the beads reveal intricate gulabi mina (a delicate pink enamel resembling roses) and white enamel flowers, showcasing the distinctive Varanasi style. Photo © Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

The gulabi mina technique is believed to have arrived in Varanasi with emigrant Persian enamelists around the 11th century AH/17th century CE, when the city was under Mughal control. Known as 'pink firing' (gulabi ki anch dena) – a process that required five separate applications – this technique highlights both the skill of its artisan and the importance of its wearer.

Another indication of the noble status of this necklace’s recipient is the spectacular size and colourless quality of the diamonds, sourced from the famed Golconda mines, as well as the precious deep green emeralds.

More than just a magnificent piece of jewellery, the Varanasi-style necklace is also a testament to the rich history and culture of India. Today, it remains a timeless and elegant symbol of the enduring beauty and sophistication of Mughal-era art and culture.

Loubna Zeidan is a Senior Editorial Specialist at Qatar Museums.

Plan Your Visit

The Varanasi style necklace is on view in Gallery 16 at the Museum of Islamic Art. Plan your visit today to see it in person, along with other highlights from the permanent collection.

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