Recently, American YouTuber and influencer Emma Chamberlain sparked controversy when she wore a stunning diamond choker to the MET Gala.
And…what’s so strange about that? She wasn’t the only celebrity at the exclusive event wearing diamonds, so why did she make headlines?
It wasn’t the fact that she wore diamonds. It was who the diamonds once belonged to — the Maharaja of Patiala — that made the choice so debated. Here’s the story behind the choker she wore and the Cartier collaboration that created it.
Who is the Maharaja of Patiala?
Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh was an Indian royal and cricket player who ruled the princely state of Patiala in British India from 1900 to 1938. Today, he is known for commissioning a set of necklaces known as the Patiala necklace.
In 1925, the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala traveled to Paris. He brought trunks of stones (diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, pearls, and rubies) in antique India settings with him on this trip. Here’s what he sent in a chest to Maison Cartier.
- 2,930 diamonds
- A large number of Burmese Rubies and other gems
The Cartier commission created a necklace of five chains and a neck collar (choker) among other items. Together, the necklace of five chains and the choker form what we know as the Patiala necklace. In total, Cartier used 960 carats of diamonds and the yellow De Beers diamond, which weighed more than 426 carats pre-cut and more than 234 carats once cut. The Patiala necklace is the most expensive piece of jewelry in history, and it would have cost $30 million today in its original form.
However, in 1948, the necklace went missing from the Royal Treasury of Patiala after India gained independence from Britain. It’s thought to have been looted by members of the Indian Armed Forces.
In 1982, the De Beers diamond reappeared at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva.
In 1998, Cartier managed to recover part of the necklace from a secondhand jewelry store in London. The necklace was incredibly damaged. The largest stones and the central precious diamond had disappeared. As this was the most impressive necklace they had ever made, Cartier has attempted to restore it and replace some of the missing diamonds with less-expensive alternatives.
Why Is Wearing the Patiala Necklace Controversial?
Looking beautiful, Chamberlain walked the 2022 MET Gala red carpet as a brand ambassador for Cartier. She paired her Louis Vuitton outfit with the Cartier diamond choker (neck collar portion of the Patiala necklace) and a Cartier tiara. The tiara is vintage — dating back to 1911 — and this is the first instance of it being loaned.
The theme of the MET was “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” while the dress code was “Gilded Glamour.”
When speaking about her outfit in reference to the theme, Chamberlain said, “During the Gilded Age, it was all about being extravagant, and I’ve never seen a more extravagant necklace.”
Much of the backlash over her donning the choker comes from the South Asian community, particularly Indian Americans. They believe it was in poor taste for Cartier to allow an influencer to “flaunt stolen goods” on a red carpet.
Simply put, the diamond choker Chamberlain wore wasn’t simply a choker. It was a necklace with a rich ethnic story. It is important to protect the history fashion, art, and jewelry hold so that they can live on in perpetuity. Thankfully, parts of this necklace are still being repaired and preserved.
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