Place of Origin: MUGHAL DOMINIONS or DECCAN, INDIA
Date: Circa 1800
Overall: 360mm (14 inches)
This elegant dagger exhibits a pale green nephrite jade hilt of typical ‘pistol-grip’ form, which has been carved at the integral flaring quillons to depict a flower in bloom and at the pommel to depict further floral arrangements and foliate elements. Particularly interesting, however, are the inset beads of turquoise which decorate the hilt throughout – the making having cleverly used the turquoise to dot the centre of each carved flower and to form a pleasing row of rectangular slots along the medial brim of the pommel. These stones are attached to the hilt using kundun, a technique whereby “A gem is placed on lac, a natural resin secreted by the Kerria lacca (a mealy bug indigenous to India), and a jeweller layers leaves of 24-carat gold around the gem and over the lac, filling the area around the gem to hold it in place.”
The 19th-century double-edged blade is forged from Indian wootz (watered) steel of elegant composition, with a high contrast pattern and brightly burnished edges. At the ricasso, on each face, the blade has been with a shallow lobed frame which has been finely decorated using gold koftgari to depict a balanced arrangement of scrolling foliage and flowers – this structure continues through a stylised lotushead into the central rib of the blade.
The blade is accompanied with its original wooden scabbard covered with purple-red fabric and fitted with a locket and chape of gilt silver over iron – the former shaped into the same pattern that appears on the blade’s ricasso and including a small belt-loop for suspension.
The turquoise decoration on this dagger makes this piece an unusual example – similar works more often being adorned with rubies, emeralds or sections of rocky crystal. A similarly decorated hilt is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number 36.25.677a, b) – its maker has also used turquoises inset through kundun. A dress sword within the National Trust Collections (NT 532361.1), taken at the relief of Lucknow in 1857, is also decorated profusely with turquoise.