While many looked on in horror as Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s iconic ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress to the Met Gala last week, it seems another piece of history went unnoticed.
Sharp eyes have now pointed out that Emma Chamberlain attended this year’s ‘Gilded Glamour’ Met Gala wearing jewellery that was allegedly stolen from India by the British in the 1940s. The YouTube sensation and newest Cartier ambassador wore upcycled Louis Vuitton and jewellery loaned by Cartier, including a stunning diamond choker.
The piece has since been recognised as part of the Patiala Necklace – an elaborate necklace created by Cartier in 1928, commissioned by the Maharaja (ruler) of Patiala in India to be an heirloom piece.
The necklace was created around the ‘De Beers’ diamond – the seventh largest diamond in the world, featuring five platinum chains embellished with nearly 3000 diamonds and rubies. This was the most expensive piece of jewellery ever made at the time, and is estimated to have cost 30 million dollars in today’s money.
The necklace is said to have “disappeared” during the violent Indian Partition in 1947, only to be found in scattered pieces across London over 30 years later. The ‘De Beers’ Diamond alone appeared at Sotheby’s auction in 1982, while another part of the necklace was found at a second hand store with many of the diamonds missing. Cartier later purchased the incomplete necklace and replaced the missing stones with replicas, where it remained in their archives until last Monday.
As many Desi social media users and creators have pointed out, the controversy lies in the painful history of British colonialism in India, and the contentious legacy of looting national treasures only to be displayed in British museums.
TikTok user @carefreebrowngirl pointed out that “[Emma] was wearing a necklace that was stolen during a violent revolt while India fought for independence”, saying the way the British would have acquired the necklace would have been “abhorrent”.
TikTok user @_makeearthgreatagain raised the question of how appropriate it was for Emma herself to be wearing the necklace.
“The necklace could have been back on a Desi neck as it’s supposed to be,” she says, pointing to Met attendees Simone Ashley and Mindy Kaling as better candidates.
This raises the question of whether it is fair for Emma to cop the flack for this admittedly problematic styling choice. While some people have criticised Emma for not doing her due diligence in understanding the history behind the necklace, many others have come to her defence.
“9/10 people wouldn’t ask for the history of a necklace,” one TikTok user commented, while another said, “Honestly I don’t think I would’ve asked, [I] would be too excited to get to wear such a beautiful necklace”.
From Emma’s YouTube video with Vogue, it seems the latter was how things went down.
“I feel like the biggest moment is this necklace,” she says. “It’s just one of the most intense but beautiful pieces of jewellery I’ve ever seen”.
Others have pointed the finger at Cartier, questioning why the jewellery brand didn’t return the necklace to India in the first place, but continue to loan it out.
Notably, no major Western publication has covered this story at the time of writing.
Neither Emma nor Cartier have addressed the controversy at the time of publication.