Thanks to Rosomane for scouting this out and to ARAMCO for its excellent contributions to pearl history and lore. Please check out the source for photos
City of Pearls</SPAN>
Written by Louis Werner
Photographed by David Wells
Jahangir sits cross-legged at the low jeweler's table beside his father, Shaykh Mahboob, and I his older brothers Afsar and Sardar. He is bent over a 100-year-old bazuban, or hinged armlet, preparing to restring its border of Basra pearls and its frayed cotton tie. On one side of the bazuban sparkle 30 flat-cut diamonds in a 24-karat gold setting. On the other, red and green Rajasthani-style enameled flowers show signs of chipping and wear.
"This side should always be up, the other is too tired," Jahangir whispers to his father in their native Deccani Urdu, pointing to the diamonds.
"Even so," answers Mahboob, "the enamel is still beautiful. Give it a double-sided tie." That decided, Jahangir snips the old silk thread holding the pearls in their surround, slips them off, and picks them up again on his long stringing needle, carefully keeping them in the same order.
Mahboob meanwhile is sizing a mound of faceted rubies using a chani, a series of nested, graduated brass sieves. After separating the stones by diameter, he restrings them in diminishing order before tying off the ends with a tiny coil of silver wire that he slips over each silk thread's tip. He double over-hands the knot, held firm by the wire, with the sure dexterity of a surgeon—and many times a surgeon's aesthetic appreciation for the result.
The work day in Hyderabad's old city has just begun, but the restringing jobs of Mahboob and his sons are already backing up. Strewn on their table is a veritable pirate's chest of treasures: seven-stranded sat lada wedding necklaces, black and gold kalipul headsets worn by married women, and delicate jhomka earrings, each with six dangles of rice pearls. On the side, another pile waits from yesterday: karan phool ear and hair chains, pear-shaped jugni pendants, and egret-plumed kalgi forehead ornaments.
"A patvagaru's work is never done," says Mahboob, using the Urdu term for a master stringer of pearls and precious stones. "Gems may last forever, but cotton and silk threads do not." He has been stringing and restringing jewels for almost half a century, much of it in the employ of Vittal Das, a Gujarati dealer whose family for generations served Hyderabad's last dynastic rulers, the nizams, and their countless courtiers—ministers, nawabs (nobles), and jagirdars (revenue grantholders).
The storied wealth amassed under the 200-year reign of Hyderabad's nizams naturally called forth a precious-jewelry industry. From the year 1724, when the Mughal governor Asaf Jah titled himself Nizam al-Mulk and established his rule over central India's Deccan plateau, until 1948, when the Nizam VII Osman Ali Khan's authority was forcibly superseded by the Indian Army, untold quantities of gems and pearls passed through the Hyderabad's jewel shops on Patthargatti Road.