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Mahnaz Collection Blog

Mahnaz Collection is a New York based fine vintage jewelry collection

Queens of the Heart: Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal and Elizabeth Taylor

Mahnaz Ispahani

Counterclockwise from top, Nur Jahal; Mumtaz Mahal; and Elizabeth Taylor wearing the Taj Mahal Diamond

Counterclockwise from top, Nur Jahal; Mumtaz Mahal; and Elizabeth Taylor wearing the Taj Mahal Diamond

The Taj Mahal diamond is a breathtaking jewel - heart shaped and table cut, mounted in a jade, ruby and diamond setting. Its legend is equally breathtaking, spanning centuries and adorning the necks of the most beloved of women, from the East and from the West. The story is said to have begun in 17th century India. The diamond was engraved with the name of Empress Nur Jahan, the wise and powerful wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. He is said to have bequeathed the jewel to his son, the Emperor Shah Jahan, ”King of the World”. Shah Jahan gave the diamond as a gift to his most beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. When she died young, the emperor was left bereft. To fulfill a promise to her, Shah Jahan went on to build an architectural masterpiece, a mausoleum worthy of his late love: the Taj Mahal. It is Mumtaz Mahal's final resting place. And so, over time, this heart-shaped gem took on the name of the Taj Mahal.

Three hundred years later, in the West, the Taj Mahal diamond would enter the lives of another famous pair of lovers, whose passionate relationship became the stuff of popular legend, the actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Burton bought the extraordinary diamond for Taylor’s 40th birthday in 1972. He then commissioned Cartier to fashion a gold and ruby “cord”, which was shaped in such a way as to evoke the traditional Indian silk cord it would have originally hung from, when it graced the neck of Mumtaz Mahal.

"I would have liked to buy her the Taj Mahal but it would cost too much to transport," quipped Burton.

When Dame Elizabeth died in 2011, Christie's auctioned the Taj Mahal necklace at the famous sale of her jewelry collection, for about $8 million. Controversy claimed this jewel, however, when the buyer cancelled the sale citing a lack of evidence that the jewel was actually owned by the Mughal empress. Ah, one provenance, that of a  Western movie queen, was deemed insufficient, without that of her Eastern partners, Mumtaz Mahal and Nur Jahan. In fact, alleged the auction buyer, this gem was possibly made as late as the 19th century and then embedded in a 17th century Mughal love story.

The result: a lawsuit between Christie's and Taylor's estate. Best to buy a jewel for your beloved, or for yourself, because you love it, because it is an object of beauty in your eyes, and it wears well, say we, than to worry about long-ago love-birds.

Happy Valentine's Day -