The History & Culture of Jewellery in the Asian Subcontinent

The History & Culture of Jewellery in the Asian Subcontinent

The historical legacy of jewelry in the Muslim subcontinent, encompassing present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, is exceptionally diverse and opulent, spanning centuries and reflecting an array of styles, materials, and techniques. With profound cultural, social, and religious significance, jewelry served as a symbol of wealth, status, and identity, worn both by royalty and the general populace.

The roots of jewelry in the Muslim subcontinent trace back to the 8th century, coinciding with the advent of Islam. Prior to this, the region embraced a rich jewelry-making tradition influenced by indigenous cultures and external sources such as Persia, Central Asia, and the Roman Empire. The integration of Islamic motifs with local artistic traditions during the Islamic era birthed unique forms of jewelry.

The Mughal emperors, Maharajas, and Nawabs amassed extraordinary collections of precious gemstones, exemplifying their wealth, power, and discerning taste. These gems had diverse origins, sourced from within and outside the Indian subcontinent, acquired through trade, conquest, and inheritance.

Factors contributing to the origin of these gemstones include local mines, trade routes connecting diverse regions, conquests, royal patronage of the arts, inheritance, and diplomatic exchanges. Notably, renowned jewelers like Cartier, Boucheron, and Mellerio were commissioned to craft exquisite pieces, further enriching the legacy of gemstones in the region.

Distinctive styles of jewelry making flourished in the Muslim subcontinent. Kundan jewelry, characterized by setting uncut gemstones in gold, gained prominence during the Mughal Empire, featuring intricate designs with filigree work, enameling, and precious gemstones. Polki and Meenakari, combining uncut diamonds with enameling, and Temple Jewelry, associated with South India and featuring intricate designs of deities, are also enduring styles.

Exploring popular jewelry pieces, the significance of crowns in European history contrasts with the Mughal Emperors' preference for ornate turbans adorned with aigrettes and sarpeches. Aigrettes, historically sought after for their elegance, featured egret feathers, while sarpeches remain integral to traditional Indian attire, symbolizing heritage and grandeur.

The subcontinent's historical figures, including the Nizam of Hyderabad and Nawab of Rampur, possessed remarkable jewelry collections, underlining the region's prosperity. Natural pearls, valued family heirlooms, were a hallmark of Rampur's collection, showcasing the grandeur of the time.


Head ornaments, worn by both Maharajas and Maharanis, added a touch of regality to their attire. Noteworthy is the enduring popularity of aigrettes, exemplified by the royal family of Qatar at the coronation of King Charles III.

Precious gemstone rings held cultural and historical importance, with examples such as the Great Mogul Diamond, Nur Jahan's Ruby Ring, and the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, each carrying its own rich narrative and contributing to the broader heritage of the subcontinent.

In conclusion, the history of jewelry in the Muslim subcontinent is a tapestry woven with diverse influences, showcasing not only the region's affluence but also its rich cultural and artistic heritage.