20 August 2012

Nizam’s Jewels

Crown Jewels of the Nizam

Nizam’s Jewels, valued at $250 - $350 million by the Sotheby’s and Christie’s, date back to early 18th century to early 20 century. Crafted in gold and silver and embellished with enameling, the jewels are set with Colombian emeralds, diamonds from the Golconda mines, Burmese rubies and spinels, and pearls from Basra and Gulf of Mannar.

While India thought they had settled all deals with the Nizams and their 200 heirs, they are back in the news.

Osman Ali Khan nominated not his son, but grandson Mukarram Jah (born in France and had Turkish mother), to be the next (and last) titled Nizam of Hyderabad. Mukarram Jah could not take the battles over his grandfather’s wealth and escaped to Australia where in spite of having the best possible education money could buy (Harrow, Cambridge, LSE, Sandhurst), he run bulldozers, married and divorced five times, one of them being former Miss Turkey. He now lives in a two room apartment in Istanbul, Turkey.

Nizam of Hyderabad is reported to have impregnated 86 of his mistresses, siring more than 100 illegitimate children and a sea of rival claimants.

However, Jah has not been able to escape it all. He has four sons and a daughter from his five wives. The eldest of them, Azmet Jah , a cameraman in Hollywood who has worked with Steven Spielberg, Richard Attenborough, Nicolas Roeg , hopes to come back to Hyderabad.

For the Nizams of Hyderabad, Muslim rulers of fabled wealth whose authority once extended across much of southern India, the armored car that carried four steel trunks away from a Bombay bank vault last month was a punctuation mark to decades of declining fortune.

The trunks, bound for a Government strongroom in New Delhi, held a collection of jewels considered by experts to be one of the greatest ever assembled. Among them was the fabled Jacob diamond, a duck's-egg-size 162-carat stone bought by Hyderabad's ruling family in 1891. It was used for much of this century as a paperweight by Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and last Nizam to rule the royal state.

The jewels -- diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls, many in gold settings, some acquired from the old royal courts of France and Russia -- were making their first journey in more than 40 years. For more than half that time, they have been the focus of a struggle between the Indian Government and the heirs of the seventh Nizam, who placed the collection in the Bombay vault after his domain became part of independent India in 1947.

The seventh Nizam, who died in 1967, was known for his vast fortune and for his idiosyncratic ways, including a habit of hoarding cash that once led rats to chew their way through three million pounds in British banknotes in a palace basement. Wary of his family's profligacy, he tied up his fortune in a web of trusts. One of those held the jewelry collection, under terms that forbade its sale until after the death of his oldest son, Azam Jah Bahadur.

When that son died, in 1970, a battle opened with the Indian Government that would continue for 24 years. Finally it was settled by the Supreme Court last month. In a compromise between the heirs, who hoped to sell the jewels abroad, and the Government, which contended that the jewels should become state property with no compensation, the court allowed the Government to buy the jewels.

Setting aside a valuation of $250 million to $300 million by Sotheby's and Christie's, the international auction houses, the court set a price equivalent to $71 million.

For 200 of the heirs, including the present Nizam, Mukkaram Jah, a grandson of the seventh Nizam who spends much of his time on a 500,000-acre sheep farm in western Australia, the settlement was bittersweet. For many, the settlement -- which involves cash payouts for some, annual dividends for others -- will provide badly needed cash to pay off debts or to supplement declining incomes from the seventh Nizam's other trusts.

Indian newspapers have reported that some of the heirs have barely been scraping by on annuities from other trusts that have shrunk to the equivalent of as little as $50 a month.

Now that the jewelry has been sold, other feelings have come into play. Mohammed A. Hadi, who represented the family as secretary of the jewelry trust, said he felt some chagrin as he watched an inventory of the collection last month during the handover at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Bombay.

"Of course, after nearly 20 years, they were happy that there was some finality to the matter," Mr. Hadi said in a telephone conversation from Hyderabad in south-central India. "But it was also an emotional, a wrenching thing."

"They were naturally disappointed that they couldn't get a better price," he said. "And they were disappointed too that a big treasure that has been in the family for centuries has left for another abode."

The jewelry sale has also revived an old debate about the princely families -- the maharajahs and nawabs and nizams -- who ruled vast tracts of India for centuries until 1947. The debate has ebbed and flowed since 1970, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi annulled agreements reached in 1947 under which the rulers of the princely states received generous state pensions as well as other privileges for ceding their domains to the new republic of India.

Some think it outrageous that Indian taxpayers are still paying out money for treasures like the Hyderabad jewels. Others argue that India owes a debt to the survivors of the princely families for having accumulated the palaces and works of art -- and the jewelry -- that now form part of the country's cultural legacy.

Even now, the issue of the Nizam's jewels seems likely to drag on, as some members of the family have threatened to contest their share of the payout. The Telegraph, a Calcutta newspaper, suggested that the spectacle of family members squabbling over the money might have amused the old Nizam. "He might be having a hearty laugh," the paper said, if he sees his descendants "constantly at each others' throats to salvage what they can from the spoils of his dead empire."

Now that it has the jewels, the Indian Government has promised to put them on display, perhaps at the national museum in New Delhi, perhaps in one of the five royal palaces in Hyderabad, several of which were opened to the public by the old Nizam's trustees for the first time last fall.

For the time being, the stones are back in a vault, this time in the sandstone fortress that is headquarters for the Reserve Bank of India.
source: http://www.24x7funonline.com/2011/09/crown-jewels-of-nizam.html

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