Mahul Brahma is an award-winning communicator, columnist and luxury commentator. For over a decade, he has held senior editorial positions with The Economic Times, India partner of New York Times and CNBC TV18. He is currently heading communications and branding in a Tata Group company. He is the author of Decoding Luxe.
For us Indians, the word luxury usually conjures up images of plush velveteen lifestyles that our Maharajas lived once upon a time, decked in sparkling jewels and riding magnificent motor cars. These luxurious items were objects symbolic of power, identity and royal status. A lot has changed in the modern times… motor cars have now been replaced by high-end sedans and convertibles but a thirst for luxury, it still remains. This dazzling nature of luxury brands prompted me to undertake a journey into the history of some brands that gained some notoriety in India for the oddest of reasons:
Cartier’s Patiala Necklace
In 1926, the Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh commissioned Cartier, its largest till date, to remodel his crown jewels, which included the 234.69 carat De Beers diamond. The result was a breath-taking Patiala necklace weighing 962.25 carats with 2,930 diamonds. It was completed in 1928 and was one of the most expensive pieces of jewellery ever made. Today, it is estimated that the Patiala Necklace, in its original form, would be worth in the region of $30 million.
With time, the necklace changed hands and finally disappeared, making an appearance half-a-century later in a second-hand jewellery shop in London. The diamond and the stones were missing. Cartier discovered it and restored it, using synthetic stones to simulate distinct colours of the diamond and other stones.
Rolls Royce Phantom
In the 1920s, twenty per cent of Rolls Royce’s global sales were from India. The royal families adored luxury in any form, and between 1908 and 1939, about 900 Rolls-Royce cars came to India for their use.
An interesting incident involves the Maharaja of Alwar sometime in the 1920s. When Maharaja of Alwar was snubbed by a young salesman who could not recognise him, he bought all the cars in the showroom and asked the salesman to escort them to India just to teach him a lesson. Back in his estate, the Maharaja then ordered all the seven Rolls Royce Phantoms to be used only for collecting municipal garbage. Talk about holding a grudge!
Louis Vuitton Trunks
Louis Vuitton has been unique in its use of valuable materials and precious leathers. And the luxury brand always enjoyed catering to special requests sent in by the Indian Maharajas, no matter how extraordinary, elaborate or detailed the demands were.
One such instance involves the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir who ordered all kinds of trunks imaginable for the most diverse of items from the luggage maker Louis Vuitton over a period of six months – golf clubs, turbans, decorations, polo sticks, horseshoes, and colonial helmets, among others. Then there trunks containing a desk with a first-aid kit, a trunk for files, a desk trunk, two special tilting trunks intended for cleaning shoes, a special monogrammed case for a typewriter, several Deauville and Beauvais suitcases adapted to lunch cases, a dictaphone, and even a semi-rigid canvas casing for a crib, intended for the heir to the throne. All had a very distinctive stamp, ‘J & K’, with a diagonal stripe, the hot stamp.
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