The Al Thani Collection at the Legion of Honor

So today was the third exhibition, this time housed in the “Legion of Honor” museum in San Francisco. A majestic building similar in its grandeur to Melbourne’s Anzac Memorial or the War Memorial in Canberra. The Al Thani Collection is what I came to see and as many of you would already know has jewels that I refer to in my “Jewel in the Crown” Talk.

Legion of Honor, San Francisco. Image by Frank Schulenburg

His Highness Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, cousin of the current Emir of Qatar has amassed this collection over the last 10 years. It’s a collection that covers a 500-year period and illustrates not only fine craftsmanship and design, but also how trade between India and the rest of the world over the centuries has influenced jewels of the most extraordinary opulence initially, into stylish pieces today and particularly from the Art Deco period.

Image by Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection © Cartier via Legion of Honor Museum

In the past in India, it was men who wore the most magnificent jewels as a sign of status, wealth and position. While during the 20th century as the Maharajas power diminished it was their wives who then started wearing more of these spectacular jewels. A piece to best illustrate the richness and wealth of this collection is the Patiala necklace made by Cartier in 1928 for the Maharaja of Patiala. This necklace I’ve seen before in our Cartier exhibition at the NGA last year, as well as a Cartier exhibition in Paris in 2013. It never ceases to amaze me in its size and richness even though the main stones are fake.

It was 1948 that this necklace disappeared from the state treasury of Patiala only to be found by an associate of Cartier in 1988 in a small estate jewellery shop in London. The major stones were missing, and they have since been replaced by copies including that of the main Diamond that was known as the “De Beers” Diamond and that was offered by Sotheby’s at auction in Geneva in 1982, This was the first time it had been seen since 1948.


Box (Dibbi), 1740–80 Mughal, Jade, inlaid with gold wire, rubies, emeralds, and crystal; H. 1 5/8 in. (4.2 cm) W. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm) D. 4 in. (10.2 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Al Thani Collection (MJ.007) via The Metropolitan Museum, New York

Another piece, though not nearly so opulent but a fine example of craftsmanship is this tobacco box fashioned from Jade and inlaid with gold mounted Rubies and Emeralds and Rock Crystal. It was made around 1640-1680 in northern India. Although this picture doesn’t make it apparent, the Jade bead at the top is so finely polished it almost looks like a pearl. Jade was highly esteemed by the Moghuls especially in articles such as daggers and swords as it represented victory.

Image by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd via The Jewellery Editor

Amongst the many Emeralds on display including carved stones on their own was perhaps one of my favourite pieces of the whole exhibition. It is in fact modern; a brooch centering upon a wonderful old large Indian Emerald and was made by my favourite 20th/21st century jeweller JAR. Its mount is made with a white Agate and Rock Crystal background, while the gold frame is set with Rubies and Diamonds.

What this item and a few other pieces in the collection by JAR illustrates is that the Sheik has (not only a pocket to afford literally anything he wants!) an eye for pieces that even modern reflect his ideals for Indian and Moghul inspired themes to become part of this collection. Though I said I would only show three pieces per blog because it’s JAR here is a fourth:

JAR’s aigrette of an elephantImage via @al.thani.collection

This JAR aigrette (or headpiece) is made of titanium, Agate, silver and gold. Its plume is all Diamond set in place or feathers. Elephants are associated with royalty in Southern India and so apart from the design and workmanship you can understand why the Sheik has added this to the collection.

Whether old or new every piece I saw had a story to tell. From fine workmanship, the use of beautiful stones, fabulous enamelling, or historical carved coloured stones. This exhibition has allowed me to learn so much more about the relevance of India within the jewellery world both past and present.

The collection continually travels the world so if you have the opportunity to see it…go!

Until the fourth exhibition ….