In ‘East Meets West,’ Even the Back Scratcher is Jewel Encrusted

Aigrette, Mellerio dits Meller, Paris, 1905. Gold, platinum, diamonds, and enamel, 2 3/16 x 2 3/8 in. (© The Al Thani Collection; Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd )

Valentine’s Day approacheth. Those of you still scrounging for an outing that's equal parts sappy, heartfelt and thoughtful, look no further: nothing fits the bill quite as well as a visit to the Legion of Honor. The museum—and its surroundings—are prime for lazy, side-by-side strolling. And then there’s that view of the Golden Gate, talk about romantic!

But the heart of my suggestion (sorry, not sorry) lies deep below street level, where a lack of cell service means nothing can interrupt quality time with your Valentine’s date. The Legion’s current special exhibition, East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from The Al Thani Collection, on view through Feb. 24, is a glittering display of opulence and excess that transports audiences to another dimension—one where money is no object, diamonds the size of peach pits hang around the necks of Indian and European royalty, and even fly whisks (that’s right, a brush to shoo away the flies) becomes a symbol of enormous power.

Nawanagar ruby necklace, Cartier, London, 1937. Platinum, rubies, and diamonds, 8 1/16 x 7 11/16 in.
Nawanagar ruby necklace, Cartier, London, 1937. Platinum, rubies, and diamonds, 8 1/16 x 7 11/16 in. (© The Al Thani Collection; Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd )

I dare you to take in the 150 pieces of finely wrought necklaces, bracelets, rings, sabers, turban ornaments and standalone precious gemstones from the collection of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, of the Qatari ruling family, and not utter a single “whoaaaa.” The fact that these jewels, most of them formerly of the Mughal empire, now all exist within one (staggeringly valuable) collection, adds a further level of trippiness to the viewing experience.

While the exhibition will not provide any background information on how any of the jewels were “obtained” (mostly from mines in India) or under what conditions, it does—without a doubt—dazzle.

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