Umm Kulthum's Multi-Strand Pearl and Turquoise Necklace

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Origin of Name :-

The name refers to a 10-strand seed pearl necklace interspersed with turquoise designed in the style of  19th-century multi-strand pearl necklaces of Indian origin, found in the collection of jewelry belonging to the Nizam's of Hyderabad, exhibited in the Museum at Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh. The necklace gets its name from its one time owner Umm Kulthum, the legendary female Arab singer of the 20th-century, whose rendition of a repository of religious, patriotic and love songs, mesmerized the Arab world for over half-a-century until her death in 1975, at the age of 71 years.

Characteristics of the necklace

The necklace is made up of 10 strands of seed pearls, whose design is characteristic of old Indian style necklaces worn by the Maharajah's of India, without a clasp, but provision being made for the two ends to be secured by tough silk threads, that was used to tie the necklace around the neck. The advantage of using necklaces of such design was that all gemstones in the necklace were displayed on the chest in front, without any being hidden behind the neck, as in the case of clasp necklaces.

Seed pearls by definition are pearls with a diameter of less than 2 mm, but this definition had varied over the years, at one time including all pearls less than 5 mm in diameter. The most prolific producer of seed pearls among pearl oysters, is the species Pinctada radiata, the common species of oyster that was found in the traditional pearl fishing grounds of the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar. Seed pearls occur singly or in aggregates of several pearls, sometimes up to a hundred or more seed pearls in a single oyster. The pearls occur in several colors, such as white, cream or yellow, and golden.

Ummu Kulthum's Multi-strand Pearl and Turquoise Necklace

Ummu Kulthum's Multi-strand Pearl and Turquoise Necklace

The seed pearls in the Umm Kulthum 10-row pearl necklace, have been beaded and strung into strands. In each strand the larger pearls are placed in the front, closer to the central peacock-shaped pendant, and the smaller pearls towards the two ends of the necklace. The color of the pearls appear to be white or cream in the photograph. The central Art-Nouveau style peacock-shaped pendant is made of gold, and studded with pearls and turquoise. All 10 strands are joined to the peacock-shaped pendant in the front, on either side, and behind at the two ends, to two bell-cap shaped devices made of gold, also studded with pearls and turquoise. Provision has been made at the top of the bell-caps at each end, for the attachment of a tough cord. Two cross bands made of gold, and also studded with seed pearls and turquoise, are placed on each arm of the necklace, dividing it into three unequal parts. The cross bands appear to have a dual function, of ornamentation and helping to keep the individual strands separate from one another. The entire necklace may be described as an old Indian-style multi-strand festoon pearl and turquoise necklace made up of seed pearls and cabochon-cut turquoise of comparable sizes.

History of the necklace

The source of the seed pearls in the necklace

The source of the seed pearls in the necklace is without any doubt the traditional pearl fishing grounds of the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, the hub of the pearl fishing industry since very ancient times. The species of pearl oyster commonly found in these waters was Pinctada radiata, that was well known to produce seed pearls in addition to medium sized pearls. Most of these seed pearls in the 18th and 19th centuries reached the pearl markets of Bombay, where they were beaded and strung together to produce strands of pearls. The Pearl  Carpet of Baroda, the most extravagant carpet ever made in the history of mankind, in 1865, by Maharajah Khande Rao Gaekwar of Baroda, was composed of over 2 million seed pearls, all sourced from the pearl banks of the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, and purchased by the agents of the Gaekwar in Bombay.

The country of origin of the necklace - India

Thus, Bombay was the pearl capital of the world during this period, due mainly to the patronage of the rich Maharajahs of India, who paid attractive prices for the pearl jewelry produced there. A jewelry industry based on pearls and other gemstones also thrived in Bombay, during this period, turning out jewelry with exquisite designs and characteristics, easily identifiable even today as of Indian origin. The Umm Kulthum Seed Pearl Necklace, the subject of this webpage, was also without any doubt a product of the thriving jewelry manufacturing industry of this period in Bombay, India. The most important characteristic that identifies the Umm Kulthum seed pearl necklace as of Indian origin, is the absence of the clasp, and provision being made for threads at the two ends of the necklace, that was used to secure the necklace around the neck. Necklaces of such design were produced during the 18th and 19th centuries, and are found among the fabulous jewelry collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad, exhibited in the Hyderabad museum. Some of these necklaces were made of medium sized pearls, but one of the well known seed pearl necklaces of this period of similar design, that belonged to the Nizams' collection, but is now owned by the New York socialite and philanthropist Meera Gandhi, is the tri-colored seven-strand Ceylon pearl necklace.

The possible period of origin of the necklace

The use of seed pearl jewelry became very popular in the west in the mid-19th century around 1830s to 1860s, a period known as the "Romantic Period" during the reign of Queen Victoria, signifying the happy moments in her life from her ascension to the throne in 1837 until the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861. All the seed pearls required by the jewelry industry in the west during this period, came from the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar. Around this period the Bombay jewelry manufacturing industry might also have produced seed pearl jewelry in keeping with the fashion trends of the period. Thus, the seed pearl jewelry in the Nizam's collection as well as the Umm Kulthum Seed Pearl Necklace, were perhaps produced during this period, particularly between 1840 to 1850, when seed pearl jewelry reached the height of its popularity.

The possible ways the seed pearl necklace would have come into the possession of Umm Kulthum

It is not known how Umm Kulthum came to acquire the multi-strand seed pearl and turquoise necklace, that was designed and produced in India in the mid-19th century. One possible way that the necklace would have come into her possession was that it might have previously belonged to a member of a royal family in the Arab world, who was also an ardent and devoted admirer of the legendary singing sensation of the Arab world, and would have been gifted by him to Umm Kulthum as a token of appreciation after one of her many performances held in various capital cities of the Arab world, during her long singing career. Umm Khulthum had received several such valuable gifts from her rich admirers and members of the royalty during her successful foreign tours. One such gift was the historic nine-strand elaborate festoon pearl necklace, also of Indian design, an heirloom of the al-Nahyan ruling family of Abu Dhabi, presented to her by Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the architect and first president of the United Arab Emirates.

A second possible way the necklace would have come into her possession was that it was purchased  by her from one of the prominent jewelry houses, during one of her many trips abroad to the capital cities in Europe and America, such as  London, Paris, New York etc. either on vacation or to seek medical treatment.

Umm Kulthum, the "Shining Star of the East," the "Incomparable Voice."

Umm Kulthum, born into a poor family in a rural village of the Delta Province, in Egypt, eventually rose to become the most celebrated singer in the Arab world in the 20th century, referred to as "Kawkab-el-Sharq" (Shining Star of the East), who dominated the entertainment industry of the Arab world for over half a century. Her fans and admirers cut across all strata of society from the rural and urban poor to the rich aristocratic families, and included people of both sexes and all age groups. Her repertoire of more than 300 songs catered both to the younger and older generations, and included romantic songs with the theme of love, longing and loss, patriotic songs, religious songs, and songs based on Arabic poetry and verse, and were mostly sung in colloquial Arabic. She had the ability to keep audiences spellbound throughout her performances. She was highly revered in the Arab world, to the extent that she received treatment on par with visiting heads-of-state in most Arab countries. Referred to as "The Lady" by Charles de Gaulle, and "The Incomparable Voice" by Maria Callas, among her notable western admirers were Bob Dylan, Jah Wobble, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marie Laforet, Salvador Dali, Nico, Bono and Led Zeppelin. Her popularity also extended to the territory of Israel, where she was admired both by Arabs and Jews alike. Her popularity was clearly manifested at the time of her death, when over 4 million mourners thronged the streets of Cairo for her funeral in February 1975, one of the largest funeral gatherings in history. Even after her death her popularity has not diminished, and she has attained almost a near-mythical status in the Arab world. Even today, Her records continue to sell about a million copies a year

Umm Kulthum, one of the greatest singers that ever lived.

Research carried out by scientists on Umm Kulthum's voice had shown that she had the remarkable ability to produce approximately 14,000 vibrations per second with her vocal cords. The strength of her voice was too great for normal commercial microphones used for singing, and she was forced to stand  1 to 3 meters away from a microphone while singing. Umm Kulthum falls under the rare breed of Arab women singers, that include four others, Asmahan, Fairouz, Sabah and Zekra, who had attained the ability to sing every single Arabic scale, in the history of the Arab world. She had a contralto vocal range, that enabled her to sing as low as the second octave, and as high as between the seventh and eight octaves at her vocal peak. Many in the Middle East and the Arab world still believe that Umm Kulthum was one of the greatest singers to have ever lived.

Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthum's jewels first put up for sale at a Christie's auction in Dubai, in April, 2008.

The first time a piece of jewelry that belonged to the singing legend of Arabia, Umm Kulthum, was put up for sale was on April 29, 2008, at a Christie's auction held in Dubai, at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel. The family of the singer decided to dispose of one of her most favorite pieces, the nine-strand elaborate festoon pearl necklace of Indian design, that was given as a gift to the singer by the late Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, and was adorned by the singer during some of her performances. Umm Kulthum is said to have taken great care of the necklace, due to its sentimental value, given to her by a benevolent ruler in the Arab world, whom she greatly respected. The necklace was exhibited in New York, London and Dubai prior to its sale. The auction house had placed a pre-sale estimate of only $80,000 to $ 120,000 for the necklace. However, when the auction got underway there was intense bidding for the necklace, and after competitive bidding between two contenders, the necklace was eventually purchased by one of the unidentified contenders from the Middle East, for the staggering sum of 5.1 million dirhams, equivalent to $1.39 million. This went far beyond the expectations of the auction house - 10 times more than the upper pre-sale estimate. A spokesman for the auction house explaining the discrepancy said that the company only sets the price for the actual market value of an item, and then allow the buyers to determine the value of the provenance. In the case of the Umm Kulthum necklace, the value of the provenance was ten times more than the actual value of the necklace, because of the universal popularity of its legendary owner.

A second set of Umm Kulthum's jewels put up for auction by Christies in Dubai, on April 28, 2009. The Umm Kulthum's multi-strand seed pearl and turquoise necklace was part of this sale.

Following the success of the sale of the "Umm Kulthum Pearl Necklace" on April 29, 2008, by Christie's at Dubai, a second set of jewels from the estate of Umm Kulthum was put up for sale by her heirs, again at a Christie's auction in Dubai on April 28, 2009. A small collection of personal jewels that belonged to the legendary singer was offered as part of an auction known as "Jewels and Watches" that was held on April 28, 2009, at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai. The "Jewels and Watches" sale was followed the next day at the same venue, by the Christie's sale of "International Modern and Contemporary Art."  The two sales were sponsored by Credit Suisse, one of the world's leading banks, providing private banking, investment banking and asset management services worldwide.

The sale included four items from Umm Kulthum's jewelry collection :-

1) An emerald, diamond and pearl set consisting of a bracelet, brooch and a pair of ear pendants. Pre-sale estimate $40,000 to $60,000.

2) The multi-strand seed pearl and turquoise necklace of Indian design, with a stylized peacock centerpiece, the subject of this webpage. Pre-sale estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

3) A cultured pearl and paste festoon brooch - a gift from the late Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to Umm Kulthum, on the occasion of his wedding to Princess Fawziya, the sister of King Farouk of Egypt. Pre-sale estimate $3,000 to $5,000.

4) A lady's diamond and cultured pearl wristwatch. Pre-sale estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

David Warren, Christie's Director of Jewelry for the Middle East said before the auction, "We are delighted to have been entrusted with this rare group of jewels from Umm Kulthum and, as always in our Dubai sales, we have sought to offer some exquisite pieces of jewelry and fine watches."


 Umm Kulthum's jewelry  sold for  400,000 dirham ($109,000) at Christie's auction in Dubai

According to David Warren, several pieces from Umm Kulthum's jewelry collection was sold for a total of 400,000 dirham equivalent to $109,000 at the April 28, 2009, auction, held at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel  in Dubai. The multi-strand seed pearl and turquoise necklace of Indian origin, with its  Art Nouveau style peacock-shaped pendant made of gold and studded with pearls and turquoise, was sold for more than $80,000 to an anonymous Middle Eastern collector. This was more than three times the upper pre-sale estimate of $25,000 placed on the necklace  by the auction house. It seemed that bidders at the auction were disregarding the financial crisis for the chance to own a piece of history. Commenting on the sale of the necklace, David Warren, head of jewelry for Christie's auction house in Dubai, said, "It's extremely difficult to assess the value of provenance on a piece like that; provenance has a different value for different people. We generally value for the value of the object, and then we allow the buyers to determine the value of the provenance. In the case of Umm Kulthum it carries a heavy additional premium."  

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Related :-

1) Umm Khulthum nine-strand festoon pearl necklace

2) The Pearl Carpet of Baroda

3) The Ceylon Pearl Necklace

External Links :- 

1) Jewels from the estate of Umm Khultum to be sold at Christie's in Dubai -  Press release, March 31, 2009 -

References :-

1) Umm Kulthum's jewels to glitter at Dubai auction -

2) Umm kulthum's jewels to be displayed for sale at Christie's in Dubai -

3) Late singer's jewelry a hit at auction -

4) Umm Kulthum - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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