Explained: The controversy over a diamond necklace, with roots in India, worn at the Met Gala

The necklace, worn by popular US YouTuber Emma Chamberlain, originally belonged to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.

Popular US YouTuber Emma Chamberlain is facing widespread criticism for the diamond necklace she wore to this year’s Met Gala. Designed by luxury jewellery maker Cartier, the antique necklace originally belonged to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, and features a De Beers diamond, which was once the seventh largest in the world.

The necklace was said to have disappeared from the Royal Treasury of Patiala around 1948, and parts of it, including the massive Da Beera diamond, were later purchased by Cartier. Within days of the charity event this year, the jewellery designer has been criticised for allowing Chamberlain to wear what has been described as a “part of India’s stolen history”.

But Chamberlain’s fashion choice was not the only controversy at the Met Gala this year. Often called the ‘Oscars of fashion’, the Met Gala is known for ostentatious displays of wealth and extravagance. This year’s dress code, ‘Gilded Glamour’ — a nod to the 19th-century Gilded Age in the United States — was a celebration of just that. But amid a devastating war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, and new waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, many have criticised the charity event for its excessiveness.

What was the theme of the 2022 Met Gala?

The theme of this year’s Met Gala was ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’, which was meant to act as a second instalment to last year’s theme, ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion’. According to Vogue, the second installation by Andrew Bolton — the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute — “centres on the tenets of American style and prizes the anonymous and unsung heroes of US design”.

The dress code, ‘Gilded Glamour’, referred to the two decade period between 1870 and 1890, where there was “unprecedented prosperity, cultural change, and industrialisation”. Guests were expected to look to ‘Gilded Age New York’ for inspiration.

Why was Chamberlain’s necklace controversial?

Chamberlain walked the Met Gala red carpet as the brand ambassador for Cartier. Dressed head to toe in Louis Vuitton, her outfit was paired with a vintage platinum and diamond Cartier tiara dating back to 1911, and the necklace in question. In an interview with Vogue, she said: “During the Gilded Age, it was all about being extravagant and I’ve never seen a more extravagant necklace.”

In the days since the event, Chamberlain and Cartier have faced considerable backlash over the necklace. The South Asian community, particularly Indian Americans, said it was in poor taste for the jewellery brand to allow an ‘influencer’ to “flaunt stolen goods” on the Met Gala red carpet.

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