Restoring a Gem

When Maharajah Sir Bhupindar Singh of Patiala commissioned a necklace from Cartier in 1928, he wanted a stunning showpiece for the famous De Beers diamond purchased by his father. The resulting necklace was adorned with nearly 3,000 diamonds totaling 962.25 cts.—including the 234.69-ct. yellow De Beers diamond mined in 1888. It was one of the largest necklaces ever created by a jeweler.

Unlike many Cartier creations, however, the Patiala necklace was not preserved through the decades. After India declared its independence in 1947, the jewels of the country’s royalty began disappearing, and the piece was not seen again for several decades. In 1982, the De Beers stone was rediscovered at an auction in Geneva. The remainder of the necklace, however, would not be found for another 16 years, when it was discovered in grave disrepair in London.

When Cartier reacquired the piece in 1998, only the five diamond-studded platinum chains remained. Cartier at first recreated the original design using stones like white topazes and white sapphires in place of the missing diamonds and a yellow sapphire in place of the De Beers diamond. Not satisfied with the result, the historic jeweler embarked on a mission to restore the precious nature of the original necklace, replacing the missing stones with cubic zirconia and synthetic gems. The goal is to find, one by one, suitable diamonds and precious stones to recreate the original Patiala necklace.

After four years of work, Cartier has added the piece to its private museum collection. It’s now the subject of a traveling exhibit, allowing the public to see the necklace for the first time since 1941. It can be viewed at Cartier stores in New York through Jan. 3, and in Palm Beach, Fla., Jan. 13-21.