Why are the jewels of Hyderabad's last Nizam locked in an RBI vault in Delhi?

These jewels include the large 185-carat Jacob diamond, that the Nizam used as a paperweight.
Why are the jewels of Hyderabad's last Nizam locked in an RBI vault in Delhi?
Why are the jewels of Hyderabad's last Nizam locked in an RBI vault in Delhi?
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As Hyderabad celebrated the 131st birth anniversary of its last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, this week, a long pending request has surfaced again.

Descendants of the Nizam demanded that more than 150 pieces from the Nizam's personal jewellery, which are presently in an RBI vault in New Delhi, be brought back home.

"It is unfortunate that people of this city are deprived of such an important part of history...Hyderabad must have its own museum to display the Nizam's jewellery" Himayath Ali Mirza, one of the great grandsons of the seventh Nizam, was quoted as saying.


Born on April 6, 1886, Osman Ali Khan was the last ruler of the princely state of Hyderabad, from 1911 to 1948.

By the time he died, he had held many official titles from 'His Exalted Highness H.E.H The Nizam of Hyderabad', to 'Rajpramukh of Hyderabad State'.

Known as the ‘Architect of modern Hyderabad’, the Nizam gave Hyderabad, the High Court, the Osmania University, the Osmania General Hospital, the Moazzam Jahi Market, a Town Hall (now the legislative assembly building) and the Hyderabad Museum (now the Telangana State Archaeology Museum).

During the latter part of his reign, he also established airways, with the Begumpet airport.

On February 22, 1937, the Nizam even made it to the front cover of TIME magazine, which called him "The Richest Man in the World".

The Nizam's Jewels

Noting that he was at least worth $2 billion at the time, which would easily be over $30 billion today, the TIME reporter also stated that diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and gems at the Nizam's palace were stored in "$3 steel trunks fastened with padlocks."

There have also been several accounts of how the Nizam would use the large 185-carat Jacob diamond, as a paperweight.  

All those jewels now lie in an RBI vault in New Delhi.

(Image: Flickr/Kalle Anka)

"The jewels are all heirlooms that were passed on through the Asaf Jahi dynasty, to which Osman Ali Khan belonged. In today's world, I would pin the worth of the jewellery at roughly Rs 50,000 crore," says Mohammed Safiullah, a city based historian, and cultural advisor to the Nizam Trust. 

Safiullah goes on to add, "To protect the jewels, the Nizam established a 'Nizam Jewelery Trust' in the 1950s. He only had one condition. He said that the trustees could sell the jewels if need be, but only after the death of his eldest son, Azam Jah."

In fact, Azam Jah's son, Mukarram Jah, is still the eighth and titular Nizam of Hyderabad, after he inherited the title from his grandfather. 

"In October 1970, after the death of Azam Jah, the entire family of the Nizam came to get their share. After discussion, they decided that they would look at some international bidders as the jewels were worth several billion dollars," Safiullah says.

However, the government of India intervened and said that it was a national treasure. Almost two decades of negotiations followed.

"In 1995, a deal was struck, and the Nizam's descendants were paid Rs 218 crore after taxes. This was 22 years ago, but I still feel that it was a paltry sum for the priceless jewels," Safiullah adds.  

The Nizam's jewels have visited Hyderabad in the past. In 2001 and 2006, the jewellery was displayed at the city's Salar Jung Museum, and drew massive crowds.

"I was there both the times," says Safiullah, adding, "As someone who is keen on Hyderabad's history, I think that this is the rightful place of the jewels. It can still be owned by the government of India, but there's no point keeping it locked up in an RBI vault."

Safiullah isn't alone in echoing that sentiment. Several historians have argued that the jewels should be brought back to Hyderabad. 

When Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, and a collector was asked about it in 2015, he had said, “Regarding India, I must say I am saddened that although you have a fantastic collection from the Nizams of Hyderabad, including the Jacob diamond, nobody can see it. The pieces are in the central bank. What is the point if they are not shown to the public?”

While the Telangana government did evince interest in bringing back the jewels in the beginning of 2014, when Princes Esra, former wife of Prince Mukarram Jah, met Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, nothing has happened since. 

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