Pearls and Hyderabad have been synonymous with each other for years now. Hyderabad acquired the name “City of Pearls” due to the generous benefaction of the Nizams whose reign lasted for about 200 years. The Mughal Nizams were an imperial group of Persian-influenced Muslims that gained power over India, and brought with them their aesthetic ideals and highly skilled craftsmanship to the Indian sub-continent in the 1500s.
The Nizams led a very lavish lifestyle. Right from their food habits, and their hobbies, to the way they dressed, the Nizams were deeply rooted in tradition and were well-intact with their culture.
Their imperial patronage and prosperous lifestyles attracted the likes of many a gem trader and jewelers from all over the world particularly more so from the Middle East, where the rare original pearls are found in profusion. The pearls were then brought in abundance to Hyderabad and the Nizams, during their glorious reigns, showered gratitude by offering pearls in variety to their subjects. This is how Hyderabad became the one-stop destination for pearls.
The Nizams adorned pearl jewelry in the form of head jewels, chokers, earrings, baju bandhs, and anklets. Women of royalty would wear bangles or choodiyan with characteristic pearls and stones and haath-phool which is a kind of delicate hand jewel extending from the wrist to the fingers.
Since then, pearl jewelry became an important aspect of Hyderabadi culture. After Hyderabad was stripped off its princely state title, the jewels of the Nizams were transferred to the government. The collection consisted of 173 pieces of jewels which included 25,000 diamonds weighing over 12,000 carats, 2000 emeralds weighing over 10,000 carats and pearls weighing more than 40,000 chows (Pearl merchants in the Arabian Gulf used chow as a unit of measurement of pearls). Another favourite of the Nizams was the Navratan, the nine stones representing the nine planets is basically Hindu in origin. It is believed that the entire collection of pearls in the Nizam’s collective collection could fill up an Olympic size swimming pool!
In the Hyderabad’s pearl jewelry industry, it is interesting to find that traditional designs have survived side by side with modern western designs. What remains significant to traditional Hyderabadi pearl jewelry is the Satlada Haar which refers to a seven strand necklace and Panchlada Haar which is a five-strand necklace. The Haars or necklaces are made up of strands of graded Basra pearls. Earrings such as “karanphool” and “cholaphool” set with uncut diamonds and pearls are some of the more preferred and popular jewelry items as part of the wedding attire. Another popular traditional pearl jewelry item that is worn with Cholaphool earrings is the Gulubund choker made up of five strings of pearls, interspersed with three gold pendants set with rubies and emeralds.
Hyderabad has grown to be the hub of India’s most famous pearls for over 400 years. The most famous concentration of pearls is clustered in and around Charminar area. Gulzar Houz, Chaar Kamaan, and General Bazaar are the more popular areas to shop Hyderabad pearl jewelry from.