Basra pearls: The history, the significance and what makes them so unique

Baroda Carpet of Basra Pearls

Baroda Carpet of Basra Pearls

By Nupur Sarvaiya

Championed by the Nizams of Hyderabad back in the day, the simple sophistication of pearls has had jewellers, brides and connoisseurs falling in love with them for centuries now. The allure of pearls has also got a nod of approval from the recent crop of celebrity brides too—Deepika Padukone wore a pearl satlada for her mehandi, Anushka Sharma wore a diamond choker with pearl drops for her second reception and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja opted for a similar design in kundan and pearls.

Broadly, pearls are demarcated into natural and cultured (or man-made) variants, but the naturally occurring version are extremely sparse, which obviously makes them more precious. Among these, Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and Mabe pearls are commonly known and easily available. There is one version, however, that is touted as invaluable—Basra pearls.

An interesting story about this pearl type dates back to 1865-1870, when Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad of Baroda commissioned a cloth to be embroidered with Basra pearls, coloured glass beads, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, set in silver and gold. Called the The Baroda Pearl Canopy, it composed of approximately 9,50,000 Basra pearls, and drew from Indian and Mughal influences to render itself into elaborate floral arabesques. It was eventually passed on to his descendent, Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda, but was eventually moved to the State treasury, where it sat for decades. Recently in June 2019, the canopy was sold at about 2.2 million dollars (approx Rs 15.6 crore) at a Christie’s auction titled, Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence collection.

What exactly are Basra pearls?

Basra pearls are a kind of natural gems that originate in the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. Interestingly, the reason why it got christened as Basra is because it was largely traded in Basra, an Iraqi city located on the banks of the river, Shatt al-Arab, back in the day.
How are Basra pearls different from its other natural counterparts?

In terms of physical attributes, Basra pearls are much lighter than other natural variants. They also boast of a unique light scattering effect that most other pearls don’t possess. Most Basra pearls are oddly shaped, so if you managed to get your hands on round ones, they would be even more priceless.

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