The glasses originally belonged to royals in the Mughal Empire
Two jewel-encrusted pairs of 17th-century spectacles are expected to sell for millions of dollars at auction next month. They were worn by nobles during the Mughal Empire. Instead of glass, their lenses are made from diamond and emerald.
The glasses, which are designed to help the wearer ward off evil, will go on display in New York, London, and Hong Kong this October.
Edward Gibbs, head of Sotheby's Middle East and India, said that the spectacles are an exceptionally rare examples of Mughal jewelry craftsmanship. “As far as we know, there are no others like them,” he said in a statement.1
Part of the rarity of the lenses is due to the size of the gemstones encrusted within them. In one pair, the “Halo of Light” features lenses which are believed to have been taken from a 200-carat diamond that was found in Golconda. Sotheby’s estimates the original diamond was “possibly the largest ever found.”1
The lenses used for the second pair, which are referred to as the “Gate of Paradise”, were reportedly cut from a Colombia emerald weighing over 300 carats.1
The size of the stones suggests that the glasses were owned by an emperor or a high-ranking courtier.1
The gems were highly valued in Islamic and Indic traditions.1 According to Gibbs, they were believed to have spiritual properties. Green is a color associated with paradise and salvation in Islam.1 This is also the color of the eyeglasses that had been worn by the Mughal rulers.1
The Mughal Empire was known for its fine jewelry making.1 These spectacles are an example of the country's skilled jewelers.
During that time, the region was home to some of the most advanced gem cutting techniques.1 According to Gibbs, the creation of these lenses required a level of scientific and technical expertise that was not available in other areas.
“There is a huge risk involved with the cutting of the stone and the size,” he added. “If it goes wrong, you lose the stone.”1
Gibbs believes the designs of the frames were most likely influenced by the people who visited the Mughal court in Europe and the Jesuit missionaries who lived in the area.
Emperor Nero, for instance, was said to have worn green gemstone lenses to ward off the sight of the blood in the Roman gladiator games. King Charles V of France may have worn beryl spectacles during the 14th century. In the same period, a Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, is said to have worn emeralds to soothe his tired eyes after weeping for days following the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal—for whom he built the Taj Mahal as a tomb.1
According to Sotheby’s, the two pairs of glasses will be sold for between £1.5 million and £3.5 million. They are incredibly rare and centuries old, but their sparkling frames and narrow silhouettes are on-trend with what celebrities like Migos and Kylie Jenner have been seen wearing recently on social media and at the Met Gala.1
1. Hills M. The $3.5 million spectacles said to ward off evil. CNN. September 14, 2021. Accessed September 15, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/diamond-glasses-emerald-mughal-auction/index.html