Two pairs of 17th century glasses are expected to fetch millions of dollars auction
next month. The jeweled glasses, which contain lenses made of diamond and emerald rather than glass, are originally believed to have belonged to the royalty of the Mughal Empire, which once ruled the Indian subcontinent.
They are designed to help the wearer attain enlightenment and ward off evil. They will be shown to the public for the first time ever when they tour in New York, Hong Kong and London before the sale in October.
The glasses are an exceptionally rare example of Mughal jewelry, according to Edward Gibbs, chairman of Sotheby’s Middle East and India. “As far as we know, there are no others like them,” he said in a telephone interview.
The glasses are expected to fetch up to $ 3.5 million each. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
The rarity of the goods also depends on the size of their gemstone lenses. The lenses of a pair, known as the “Halo of Light” glasses, are believed to have been split from a single 200-carat diamond found in Golconda, a region of today’s Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. (Sotheby’s estimates that the original diamond was “possibly the largest ever found.”) The other pair’s green lenses, called the “Gate of Paradise,” are believed to have been cut from a Colombian emerald weighing over 300 carats.
The size of the original stones suggests the identity of the glasses’ first owner, with Gibbs speculating that the glasses “could only have belonged” to an emperor, his inner circle or a high-ranking courtier. He said, “Any gemstone of this size, size or value would have been taken directly to the Mughal Court.”
The gems were highly valued in Islamic and Indian traditions, where they had strong associations with spirituality. According to Gibbs, diamonds were associated with “celestial light” and “enlightenment” in Indian societies, as the bright stones were believed to be “vehicles of astral forces” that could channel the happy intentions of the universe.
The lenses on the “Halo of Light” glasses are believed to have been cut from a single 200-carat diamond. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
Green is also a color that is closely linked to paradise, salvation and eternal life in Islam, the religion practiced by the Mughal rulers. Seeing the world through these emerald-colored glasses would therefore have been of particular importance, with Gibbs suggesting that the experience may have “led you through the gate to paradise” by offering “a glimpse of the green sea of the green paradise that awaits.”
Mughal Empire was known for developing jewelry crafts throughout South Asia, and these glasses are an example of the talents of its jewelers. In the 17th century, the Indian subcontinent was “the only source of diamonds in the world,” according to Gibbs.
The region was therefore home to some of the most advanced technologies of the time. Creating these lenses would have required “extraordinary technical skill and scientific mastery”, Gibbs said, as Mughal gemstone carvers would have carved them by hand with no room for error.
“There is a huge risk of chopping the stone and the size,” he added. “If it goes wrong, you lose the stone.”
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Gemologists visiting the Mughal court from Europe probably influenced the design of the glasses, says Gibbs, who described the objects as a “meeting between European and Indian technology and ideas.” The arrival of Jesuit missionaries, some of whom wore pince-nez glasses (which balance on the nose and have no arms), may also have affected the original frames of the glasses. At the end of the 19th century, however, both sets of frames were replaced with the current ones, which have many rose-cut diamonds along the lens rims and the bridge.
Colored lenses had been favored by Emperor Nero, who wore green gemstone glasses to “calm the eyes from the sight of blood” at Roman gladiatorial games, Gibbs said. King Charles V of France, meanwhile, is believed to have worn beryl glasses in the 14th century. According to Sotheby’s, a similar story surrounds Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who is said to have used emeralds to soothe his tired eyes after crying for several days after his wife Mumtaz Mahal (for whom he built the Taj Mahal as a tomb) died.
The “gate of paradise” is believed to have been cut from a Colombian emerald. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
Sotheby’s estimates that the two pairs of glasses will sell for between 1.5 and 2.5 million pounds (2.1 to 3.5 million dollars) each. And although they may be centuries old, their sparkling frames and narrow silhouettes appear remarkably trendy. Members of the hip-hop group Migos are known for their diamond-plated Cartier shows
, while Kylie Jenner has been seen wearing opaque bejeweled glasses with Gala
and again social media
“The attraction of jewelry, bright stones and shiny things remains through all times, right?” In Gibbs. “The current pop and celebrity scale of these fashions is a testament to the enduring style and sophistication of Indian jewelry.”
The glasses will be shown at Sotheby’s New York showroom September 17-19.