This silver Sarpech, turban ornament, is not only impressive in appearance, but iconic to the Van Gelder sisters too!
This beautiful item is one of the pieces that will instantly remind Marie Claire, Noëlle and Fleur of their mother Bernadette van Gelder, founder of Van Gelder Indian Jewellery.
Wearing turban ornaments probably stems from the Mughal’s Central Asian and Persian heritage. The emperor was the leader of his people and had been blessed with extraordinary rights and privileges by divine grace. A turban ornament amplified this role and, by embellishing the Sarpechs with the finest gems, the emperor’s power and glory were displayed for all to see. Sarpechs are found in several forms, the Jigha and the kalgi.
The Sarpech not only adorned the head of the emperor but also the brow of his horse, in recognition of the fact that this steed was responsible for carrying him to victory in battle. The king could bestow the right to wear a Sarpech on a courtier, official or general in recognition of their services.
The Sarpech underwent gradual changes during the successive reigns of the Mughal emperors. Akabar adopted the Persian fashion of the Sarpech, and had an upright plume at the front of his turban. At Jahangir’s court, fashion reflected the emperor’s love of foreign object’s d’art and his preoccupation with jewellery, and his plume was weighed down with a rare pearl. During the reign of Shah-Jahan, the influence of European jewels lead to a new version of the Jigha and the gold ornament tended thereafter to be set with precious stones. Unusually, Emperor Aurangzeb was not fond of jewels but appreciated them for their intrinsic value and used the Sarpech as a mean to display them.
As an accessory to highlight their role as rulers, it became the most important element in regal portraiture, deeply rooted in the country’s rich history of jewellery. This exuberant and elegant example in silver is extremely rare. The use of Cat’s Eye is most probably related to the birth stone of the original commissioner. How this stunning piece landed at the shoulder of our Queen B is a different story, for another day!
PC: Victoria and Albert Museum
Painting, ca 1616 of Prince Khurram, the eldest son of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) almost certainly painted when Jahangir bestowed upon him the title Shah Jahan, meaning ‘King of the World’. Shah Jahan retained the title when he succeeded his father as emperor in 1628.