Lost and found: The Patiala necklace, an historical, rare jewel

Rivers of diamonds set on a sea of platinum. The legendary Patiala necklace, an exceptional piece of jewelry boasting a long and exciting history comes to Athens this week. It is not up for sale, but available for pleasurable viewing – courtesy of the house of Cartier – as it goes on display tonight at this year’s Very Important Watches exhibition at the Athenaeum Inter-Continental Hotel. Created in 1928 for a prominent Cartier patron, the Maharajah Sir Bhupindar Singh of Patiala, the necklace is a reflection of the Parisian house’s authority. Hailed by King Edward VII as the «jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers,» the prestigious maison had been asked by the wealthy Indian prince to remount his family’s treasures in a singular jewel. It took Cartier three years to execute, but the end result was nothing short of breathtaking: The Maharajah’s impressive diamond family heirlooms were put together with hundreds of Cartier diamonds and mounted on platinum. There were all together 2,930 diamonds reaching a weight of 962.25 carats along with two imposing, top-quality rubies. The Patiala necklace left the Maharajah feeling satisfied and stylish. Following the Maharajah’s death in 1938, however, the necklace disappeared from the family’s treasury, while all of its major, spectacular precious gems were removed, sold and eventually scattered in various collections around the globe. The search for the recovery of the Patiala was undertaken by Eric Nussbaum, in charge of Cartier’s archives and head of the Art de Cartier collection. Established 25 years ago, the Art de Cartier includes more than 1,200 historical pieces, tracing Cartier’s track record, and includes rare items such as tiaras, mystery clocks and vanity cases, among others. In 1998, Nussbaum eventually traced the Patiala to London, where it belonged to a private collection. After the necklace was bought back by Cartier, the challenge was to restore it to its former glory. The Patiala was far from being intact: The piece’s original platinum base was still there, along with a few hundred of its less important diamonds. The necklace’s principal stones, however, remained hidden away in numerous vaults around the world. Cartier’s creativity came to the rescue, however, and the house opted for replacing the missing stones with similar ones – in color and quality. The necklace’s centerpiece, however, a sensational De Beers diamond weighing approximately 234.64 carats, to this day remains locked up in a safe. Hence, instead of its original gem, the Patiala today features a cubic zirconia, until a suitable replacement is found. Why is patrimony so vital for Cartier? «Heritage is one of the most important values of Cartier; together with creativity and quality, they form the house’s core values,» Christopher Kilaniotis, general manager of Cartier Greece, said to Kathimerini English Edition. «Heritage plays an important role for Cartier as a brand, as a maison. Cartier is the only luxury brand in the jewelry and watchmaking sector that has such a rich heritage; a rich and colorful history, one which you have to safeguard and also tell people about, narrate all the stories, explain to the clients why heritage is so important.» According to Kilaniotis, it is this unrivaled history which gives additional value when buying into the brand; history, in this case, is «reincarnated into modern luxury items.» Established in France in 1847, today Cartier is part of Richemont, the Switzerland-based luxury group and owner of numerous globally established brands. Beside Cartier, Richemont manages Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Sohne, Panerai, Vacheron Constantin, Dunhill, Lancel, Montblanc, Montegrappa, Purday, Chloe, Hackett, Old England and Shanghai Tang. The arrival of the grandiose Patiala in Athens this week also attests to Cartier’s involvement and confidence in the Greek market. «Greece is becoming a very important market, though it has always been significant through the ages; if you take a look at Cartier records you’ll find orders from wealthy Greek families dating back to the early 20th century,» said Kilaniotis. «Cartier has always been linked to Greece and with the establishment of its offices four years ago, Cartier decided it was an important market. Now the house believes that it’s time for the general public to have a look at the maison’s exquisite jewelry.» At the time it was created, the Patiala was believed to be the most expensive necklace in the world. Years later it was valued at $25 million, while nowadays, the jewel could very well be worth twice that. «Today, the necklace is priceless and an integral part of Cartier history,» said Kilaniotis. «It is a piece which is definitely worth seeing.» A work in progress, following viewings in Paris, London, New York, Milan and now Athens, the Patiala will soon return to the Cartier vaults and hope for its completion. After all, it’s just one stone away. Very Important Watches at the Inter-Continental, 89-93 Syngrou, tel 210.9206.000. Tonight’s opening reception is by invitation only. Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Brands and watchmakers on show Established by Minimal in 1998, the prestigious, annual Very Important Watches exhibition attracts serious watch lovers, collectors and buyers. The show offers high-end global watchmaking brands the opportunity to unveil their very latest products to the Greek market, while at the same time showcasing rare items. The following luxury brands and prestigious watchmakers will be featured this year: A. Lange & Sohne, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Montblanc, Zenith, Corum, Gerald Genda, Harry Winston, Ulysse Nardin, Paul Picot, Michalis-Blue Diamond, Girard-Perregaux, Jacob & Co, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, Cartier, Breguet, Officine Panerai, Chopard, Piaget, Bulgari, Chaumet, Chronoswiss, Chanel, Barthelay, Franck Muller, Hublot and Glashutte.