East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from The Al Thani Collection explores themes of influence and exchange between India and Europe through dazzling jewelry, carved jades, enameled gold, and famous diamonds. The exhibition features more than 150 exquisite objects made in India or inspired by its traditions, ranging from the 16th century to the present. Here, exhibition curator Martin Chapman explains the theme of gender in East Meets West as, contrary to Western expectations, the most splendid jewelry was supplied exclusively for the male rulers of India.
Rulers across India and Europe used jewelry to underscore their status, but the form and function of gemstones varied greatly from East to West, especially in terms of how they related to gender. In India, Mughal emperors and maharajas were adorned with elaborate set pieces of jewelry—turban ornaments, necklaces, bracelets, and belts—that in Europe would be donned mainly by royal and noble women.
From the Indian perspective, though, maharajas could wear magnificent jewels originally made for European women without any qualms. For instance, the Maharaja of Patiala acquired the large diamond necklace of Empress Eugénie of France. Such necklaces would never be worn by a man in the West, but for the maharaja this type of sumptuous jewelry was an important ingredient in his splendor.