There’s plenty that isn’t known about two pairs of unusual gemstone spectacles, such as who actually owned these one-of-a-kind eyeglasses. However, what is known is enough to value each of these precious works of high art and superb craftsmanship from 17th century Mughal India at a combined high estimate of £5 million ($6.85 million).
The pair of eyeglasses will be sold in separate lots at Sotheby’s London “Arts of the Islamic World & India,” auction on October 27. Having remained in the same collection for almost half a century, they will be offered publicly for the first time. The estimate for each is £1.5 – £2.5 million ($2 million – $3.4 million).
Primarily due to the extraordinary large gems that were used for the lenses of these eyeglasses and the exceptional skills of the craftsmen who cut, polished, and beveled the gems to make them highly transparent, no comparable example of either is known to exist.
Both spectacles were more than just ornamental. They were made to be worn as eyeglasses as they are totally transparent. They are the result of extreme technical skill and craftsmanship.
The pair of spectacles were originally crafted in 17th century Mughal India, likely made for a prince of the era, according to the specialists at Sotheby’s. However, the patron who commissioned the spectacles is unknown. What is known, according to Sotheby’s, is that “they stem from a rich period of artistic and architectural achievement during the Great Mughal reigns of emperors Akbar (1556–1605), Jahangir (1605–1627), Shah Jahan (1627–1658) and Aurangzeb (1658–1707).”
The lenses for one of the spectacles are almost certain to have been made from a single Colombian emerald from the famed Muzo mines estimated to originally weigh more than 300 carats, Sotheby’s says. The lenses for the other pair is almost certain to have been made with a flawless diamond to have originally weighed more than 200 carats from the fabled Golconda mines of India. Sotheby’s adds that that diamonds and emeralds of such an extraordinary size would have been reserved only for an emperor.
The eyeglasses with round diamond lenses totaling approximately 25 carats is named the “Halo of Light.” Sotheby’s says the “faceting around the edge displays extreme skill, arranged to hold transparency in the lenses while releasing light from the edges.”
The lenses for the teardrop-shaped emerald pair weigh approximately 27 carats and is named the “Gate of Paradise.” “The beveling of the emeralds has been precisely angled to hold the intensity of the color in the stone.”
In circa 1890, the lenses were placed in new frames, decorated with rose-cut diamonds, Sotheby’s says.
While ordinary lenses function to improve sight, these eyeglasses with their gemstone lenses were thought to be an aid for spiritual enlightenment, according to Sotheby’s. The diamonds are believed to illuminate and emeralds to have held miraculous powers to heal and to ward off evil.
Sotheby’s list a couple instances of gemstones that may have been used as lenses for spectacles. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History recounts the ancient Emperor Nero observing gladiatorial contests through the surface of a precious green stone. Many centuries later, an inventory of the treasury of Charles V of France lists a case of beryl gemstones framed as spectacles.
Closer to where these examples originate, in India, following the death of Shah Jahan’s beloved wife – in whose honor the Taj Mahal was built – the emperor is said to have cried so many tears that he needed to cure his ailing eyes with emerald stones.
Sotheby’s bi-annual Arts of the Islamic World & India auction in London specializes in historic objects, paintings and manuscripts from across several continents and over ten centuries.