The press is abuzz with news Christie's April auction of Magnificent Jewels in New York. Centre stage are the Baroda pearls, a double strand necklace of exquisite large natural pearls taken from a legendary Indian seven-strand necklace dating back to Mughal times. It became part of the collection of the 19th century jewelry enthusiast, the Maharaja of Baroda, Khande Rao Gaekwar (r.1856-1870). The clasp, a cushion-cut diamond is by Cartier. The expected auction price is $7-9 million.

The story of the Baroda pearls picks up with a latter day Maharaja, Sir Pratap Singh Gaikwad or more specifically his second wife, Sita Devi, whom he married in 1943. She was a flamboyant Maharani who outrageously flaunted the social strictures of her time.

The press labelled her as the Indian Wallis Simpson. Like the original Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, who married King Edward VIII of Britain after he abdicated in 1936, she too attracted the attentions of a royal whilst still married to another man. Both women also shared a love for jewelry and neither was popular in society. Sita Devi simply raided the Baroda treasury for her own use and took many pieces permanently out of India. One famous item was the legendary 19th century Pearl carpet, woven with diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds. But the Government of India forced the Maharaja to return the Baroda pearls.

Many of the Baroda treasures were probably unrecoverable anyway as Sita Devi liked resetting her jewelry to suit her taste or selling them off. Above is a picture of her (picture source) wearing the Star of the South diamond amongst many in a modified version of the original Desden designed necklace.

K.R.N.Swamy in his article about the Maharani, writes about a 1957 society ball when the two women did actually meet. The Duchess of Windsor wore a diamond choker made from anklet jewels that Sita Devi had sold to the New York jeweler, Harry Winston. The choker was much admired until Sita Devi was heard loudly declaring that the jewels had look lovely on her feet too! The choker was returned by a humiliated Wallis Simpson.

Sita Devi's second marriage was eventually dissolved. She died in 1986 in France at age of 69.

Christie Press Release
Palace Picture reference
Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda (now Vadodara), still the Royal residence today:
Missing Baroda pearls at Christie`s by Kishore Singh
The most flamboyant Maharani by K.R.N.Swamy
Christie’s hit by curse of the £5m necklace by Dean Nelson
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