Three Strand Nina Dyer Black Pearl necklace

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Origin of Name

The three-strand black pearl necklace, a signature piece by the renowned jewelers Cartier, gets its name from its one time celebrated owner, the Anglo-Indian fashion model Nina Sheila Dyer, who in 1954 married Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, a noted industrialist and art collector and one of the richest men in Europe at that time, and after being divorced by the Baron in 1956, married His Highness Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan, the international diplomat and art collector in 1957, which marriage too ended up in divorce in 1962. The divorce settlements of 1956 and 1962 granted her enough riches but not happiness. Nina Dyer finally committed suicide in 1965. A lover of animals, Nina Dyer left her fortune to the maintenance and care of animals.

The three strand Nina Dyer natural black pearl necklace

The three strand Nina Dyer natural black pearl necklace

© Christie's

Characteristics of the necklace

The arrangement of the pearls in the necklace and their shades of black color

The triple-strand natural black pearl necklace, is made up of 151 spherical and near-spherical,  perfectly matched natural black pearls. There are 53 pearls in the outermost strand, 49 pearls in the middle strand and 49 pearls in the innermost strand, making a total of 151 pearls. The minimum and maximum sizes of the pearls in each strand and their total weights are not known. However, as in all other pearl necklaces, the largest pearls in each strand are placed one below the other in the front, exactly along the median vertical line that divides the necklace into two equal halves and also passes through the clasp behind. The arrangement of the pearls in the three strands from the outer to the inner strands are :- 26-1-26, 24-1-24 and 24-1-24 (Where no. 1 represents the median pearl and the equal numbers on either side, the number of pearls on the left half and right half of the necklace). The strands being perfectly matched, pearls of identical sizes are placed in symmetrical positions on either side of the median line. The size of the pearls gradually decrease towards the rear, the smallest pearls being found closest to the clasp. The three strands are joined behind to a single Cartier clasp with their signature. The color of the pearls vary from dark gray and black to gun-metal colors. It is not known whether any of the pearls have any overtone colors.

What causes the black color of pearls and their overtones if any ?

The black color of the pearls is actually their body color caused by a black melanin pigment, secreted by special glandular cells in the mantle, during nacre formation. The pigment combines with conchiolin, the protein component of nacre, while the non-protein component, crystalline calcium carbonate, known as aragonite remains colorless. Thus the black color of conchiolin shows through the colorless aragonite platelets.

The overtone of colors if any in black pearls, is purely an optical effect caused by the interference of light, passing through alternative layers of aragonite and conchiolin in the thick nacre. The orient and iridescence of the pearls are also optical properties caused by the interference of light. The final color of black pearls is a blend between the body color and overtones if any, and the combined colors are given special names as shown in the following table. The most sought after color in black pearls is a combination of black body color and rainbow overtones, known as peacock or rainbow.

Combination of body color and overtones in black Tahitian pearls


Basic body color Overtone Combination

Special name

1 gray yellow yellowish-gray Champagne
2 black purple purplish-black Cherry
3 black blue bluish-black Lavender
4 pale gray - pale gray Moon Gray
5 black green greenish-black Peacock-green or black-green
6 black rainbow of colors - Peacock or Rainbow
7 black reddish-purple - Aubergine or Egg plant
8 gray purple purple-gray Pigeon Gray
9 gray green greenish-gray Pistachio
10 gray - gray Silver
11 black gold golden-black Tahitian Gold

The source of the black pearls

The source of the black natural pearls used in the three-strand Nina Dyer Black Pearl Necklace, is undoubtedly the bivalve mollusk, black-lip pearl oyster, known as Pinctada margaritifera, which has a wide geographical distribution, found in the tropical Indo-Pacific waters from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of California, in Mexico, and from Japan to the southern Pacific Islands of French Polynesia. The species is also found along the northern coast of Australia, from Champion Bay in Western Australia to Moreton Bay in Queensland. Scientists have identified seven different varieties of the species Pinctada margaritifera, each having its own separate range. The source of the famous Black Tahitian natural and cultured pearls is Pinctada margaritifera cumingi, the largest of the seven varieties, that can grow up to a maximum size of 30 cm (12 ins).

Thus the source of the black natural pearls in the necklace can be any one one of the following areas in the Indo-Pacific region, such as the Persian Gulf, countries with a coastline in the South Sea, such as Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, southern China, northern Australia, countries with a coastline in the Pacific, such as  Japan, Baja California in Mexico, and the southern Pacific Islands of French Polynesia.


History of the Nina Dyer Black Pearl Necklace

History of the usage of black pearls

The Persian Gulf was one of the first pearling grounds in the world where black pearls were first discovered. The Gulf was the natural home of two species of bivalve mollusks, Pinctada radiata and Pinctada margaritifera. The usage of pearls by reigning monarchs reached its greatest height in the 16th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who wore pearl embroidered dresses to her court, and was reported to have owned over 3,000 such dresses. But in the history of the European monarchies, the first time we hear of the use of natural black pearl jewelry, was during the period of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796), who was reported to have owned a black pearl necklace made up of 30 pearls, the largest of which weighed 78 grains. The pearls in this necklace would have originated possibly in the Persian Gulf or Baja California, in Mexico, two of the regions from where black pearls were sourced during this period. Another usage of natural black pearls, was reported again in the 18th century, in the Austrian Crown of the Habsburg dynasty, that was believed to be set with 30 black pearls. Then came the flamboyant empress of France, Empress Eugenie de Montijo (1826-1920), the Empress Consort of Napoleon III, who was reputed to have reset most of the crown jewels of France in new settings, in keeping with the fashion trends of the time, and also added several exquisitely designed new pieces, including a valuable black pearl necklace to her collection. The pearls in Empress Eugenie's black pearl necklace, were believed to have originated in the French Polynesian Islands of the southern Pacific, which came under their control in 1842. After the popularization of black pearls by Empress Eugenie de Montijo, black pearls came to be known as the "Pearl of Queens" and the "Queen of pearls."

Nina Sheila Dyer - A short biography

Early life and her marriage to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen in 1954

Nina Sheila Dyer, the daughter of Stanley Dyer, was a popular Anglo-Indian fashion model based in Paris. Information about her early life is scarce, but according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,  she was born on February 15, 1930, either in London or in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where her parents had extensive properties. Nina probably had her education in London, after which she moved to Paris, where she began her career in fashion modeling. She inherited her parents properties in Sri Lanka, and was a rich heiress in her own right when she met and fell in love in Paris, with Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, heir to a steel and armaments empire and well known art collector, and one of the richest men in Europe during that period. Nina married the Baron on June 23, 1954, the marriage taking place either in Paris or Colombo, Sri Lanka. At the time of her marriage Baron Thyssen, was reported to have presented her with a Caribbean Island, two sports cars with gold-plated ignition keys, a black panther and a fortune in Jewelry. In all probability the three-strand Nina Dyer Black Pearl Necklace was also part of this jewelry fortune.

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen divorces Nina in 1956

But, it so happened that in spite of the Baron's enormous riches, and the valuable gifts he showered on her, Nina fell in love with a not so well-to-do French actor. Nina's marriage with the Baron was without issue and lasted only two years. The Baron divorced Nina, on July 4, 1956, and the divorce settlement made Nina richer by $1,000,000 and the owner of a chateau in France. Commenting on his divorce, Baron Thyssen is said to have once remarked, "It sounds silly, but, I hate to divorce. It's a most disagreeable operation." The Baron declared after the divorce, that he intended to stay a bachelor for sometime, but soon married a New Zealand-born British photographic and Fashion model, Fiona Campbell-Walter, on September 17, 1956.

Nina's second marriage to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in 1957

On August 27, 1957, Nina aged 27 years married Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, aged 24 years, at a ceremony held in Bellerive, Switzerland. Before the marriage, Nina converted to Islam, taking the name "Shirin" (Persian - Sweetness). The couple lived together for three years, until 1960, but had no children. They were then separated for the next two years, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan deeply involved in his new assignment as the Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Nina Dyer returning to Paris to pursue her career as a professional model. In 1962, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, filed for divorce from Nina Dyer in Geneva, on grounds of incompatibility. The divorce was eventually granted, with a financial settlement in favor of Nina Dyer.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan with Nina Dyer at the time of their marriage in 1957

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan with Nina Dyer at the time of their marriage in 1957

Nina Dyer commits suicide in 1965

Even though the two divorce settlements with two of her former husbands, Baron Thyssen and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, two of the richest men in the world at that time, left her substantially rich, with sufficient resources to keep her going for the rest of her life,  Nina Dyer did not find the spiritual happiness that sustains life, at times of extreme stress and unhappiness. Perhaps her two failed marriages would have had a serious psychological impact on Nina Dyer. Apart from this it is not known, whether there were other factors that were responsible for causing extreme psychological stress on this one time vibrant personality. Driven by desperation and her apparently hopeless condition, Nina Dyer, was compelled to commit suicide on July 3, 1965, using an overdose of sleeping pills, sending shock waves of sympathy around the world.

A  lover of animals during her short life span of 35 years, that included two black panthers presented to her by her first husband, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, Nina Dyer kept herself busy by caring for her dumb friends, a favorite pastime that served to lessen the impact of her loneliness. Her  supreme commitment to the care and maintenance of animals, was well served, when she bequeathed her entire fortune for this purpose, at the time of her unfortunate death.

Nina Sheila Dyer with one of her pet dogs

Nina Sheila Dyer with one of her pet dogs

The three-strand Nina Dyer Black Pearl Necklace comes up for auction at Christie's in 1969 and again in 1997 

The three-strand Nina Dyer Black Pearl Necklace first came up for auction at Christie's, Geneva in 1969. The proceeds of this sale probably would have gone into a fund in fulfillment of her wish to use her estate for the care of animals. The necklace remained with the anonymous buyer until 1997, when it was put for action again at Christie's, Geneva in November 1997, and sold for $913,320. Again the identity of the buyer of the celebrated necklace was withheld by Christie's. The price of nearly a million dollars realized for the necklace in 1997, is a reflection of not only the natural origin of the black pearls in the necklace, but also its unique provenance.

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza - A short biography

His birth and origins

Baron Hans Heinrich was born on April 2, 1921, in Scheveningen, the Hague, Netherlands, to Heinrich Freiherr Thyssen-Bornemisza, a wealthy German industrialist and his wife Margit Freiin Bornemisza, daughter of the Hungarian King's chamberlain. He was the 4th and youngest child in the family. Margit Freiin's father had no sons of his own, and adopted his son-in-law Heinrich Freiherr and passed on his barony to him. This explains how Heinrich Freiherr Thyssen acquired the title Baron, which was subsequently inherited by his 4th son Hans Heinrich.

The history of the family empire

The family empire was founded by Baron Hans Heinrich's grandfather and was based on shipbuilding, coal, steel and iron. The grandfather left his fortune to his two sons Heinrich and Fritz in 1926. However relations between the two brothers became acrimonious, with Fritz becoming a sympathizer and financial backer of the Nazis. However when the persecution of Jews by Hitler began in November 1938, Fritz escaped with his family to Switzerland. His steel company was nationalized by Hitler, who used it for the production of armaments for his war effort. In 1940, Fritz entered France, intending to escape to Argentina with his family, but was arrested by the Germans, and taken back to Germany with his wife, where they were confined to various concentration camps, until they were rescued by Fifth U.S.Army, on May 5, 1945. The Thyssen companies were returned to the family after the war, and Heinrich Thyssen took control of the company. However, Fritz had to answer charges of sympathizing with the Nazis and financing them in the initial stages, and mistreating Jewish employees of his company in the 1930s. He accepted responsibility for the last charge and agreed to pay 500,000 Deutschmarks as compensation to those who suffered as a result of his actions.

Baron Hans inherits his father's business interests destroyed by the war

Hans Heinrich's parents separated when he was just eight years old, and the boy was brought up by his father. Hans began work in a Thyssen-owned bank in Rotterdam, but moved to Switzerland in 1939 on his father's instructions, after the Germans invaded Holland. At Switzerland he continued his education, studying law and economics at Freiberg and Berne Universities. When his father died in 1947, Hans inherited his father's business conglomerate, which was almost in ruins after the war. All 12 ships belonging to the company had been sunk, the Bremen shipyards and Rotterdam dockyards were totally destroyed and in ruins, and so also was their mines at Ruhr.

Baron Hans reorganizes his father's business empire and forms the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group of Companies

Hans Heinrich who was now 26 years old, began reorganizing and rebuilding his empire. He closed down the armaments factories, and shifted emphasis towards peacetime industrial activities, such as shipbuilding. He continued to maintain his interests in banking. Among the new business ventures he embarked upon was, a stake in the Heineken Brewery in Holland, real estate in North America and sheep farming in Australia. He named his group of companies as the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group, whose headquarters was based in Monaco, and eventually employed 14,000 people from around the world. His Thyssen-Bornemisza Group of companies became a post-war success story,  and Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, became one of the richest men in Europe, with an estimated fortune of $5.4 billion, that did not include the value of one of the world's greatest art collections.

Baron Hans also inherits  a vast collection of arts from his father

With so much resources at their disposal art collection was a favorite pastime of the rich and powerful in the course of history. The Thyssen's were no exception. The grandfather was not much of a collector, but was an admirer of Rodin, from whom he commissioned a set of six marble sculptures, which still remains an important part of the collection. The collection was actually started by Heinrich Freiherr who acquired a vast collection of paintings from old European masters, from the 14th to 19th centuries. When Baron Hans Heinrich first inherited his father's vast collection, he had not yet developed an inclination towards the appreciation of art, and felt that there were already too many in the collection, that he would never to buy another as long as he lived. But, Baron Hans Heinrich did not have his way as intended by his father's will. Heinrich Freiherr's will was challenged by three of his children elder to Baron Hans Heinrich, under Swiss law, and the court decided to break up the collection between the four children. Baron Hans Heinrich was worried about the breaking up of the collection, and his inability to keep them together as his father would have wished. He then negotiated with his siblings and bought back the paintings given to them by the court. Thus he was able to restore the original collection of 400 old masters paintings. The young baron now developed an obsession to expand the collection, by acquiring more old masters, and within  few years the collection grew to nearly 600.

Baron Hans Heinrich expands the art collection by acquiring works of modern art

Baron Hans Heinrich now developed an interest towards acquiring modern art works, and the first piece he purchased was a water color by Emil Nolde, dated between 1931 to 1935. He then acquired more works of modern art, that included works by Edgar Degas, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Fernand leger. His obsession with art collection, eventually made him an expert in the field of art appreciation, so much so that in later years he devoted most of his time towards this favorite pastime. He also concluded a $100 million worth of art deals every year. Eventually his art collection became one of the largest privately owned collections in the world, that was perhaps rivaled only by the Queen's collection. His passion for art was clearly demonstrated when he said, "It is universal. It is impossible to have a disagreeable conversation about it. It should be shared by everyone."

The collection overwhelms the Villa Favorita, and the Baron looks for alternative sites to house his collection

His priceless collection of art was housed in the "Villa Favorita" in Switzerland, and by the year 1986, the Villa had hardly any space left to accommodate any new acquisitions. He then requested the Swiss Government to fund an enlargement of his museum, but the response from the government was not encouraging, which offered only around $3 million for the project. Baron Hans Heinrich then began to look for alternative sites outside Switzerland that would accommodate his invaluable collection. Britain was interested and sent in a high-powered delegation that included the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who met the Baron and made a strong case for Britain as an alternative site. Likewise President Mitterrand of France sponsored France as an alternative site, and the Getty Foundation offered millions of dollars on behalf of the United States. On the other hand, the Swiss Government  who were frustrated by their earlier efforts to keep the paintings in Switzerland, tried to block the paintings from leaving the country.

The collection is purchased by Spain, and housed in the Villahermosa Palace in Madrid

Eventually in 1993, Baron Hans Heinrich decided to give the paintings to Spain, the birth place of his fifth wife, Carmen Cervera, a former Miss Spain and widow of Lex Barker, who acted as Tarzan in many films. The Spanish Government was reported to have paid £ 241 million for the collection, and donated the Villahermosa Palace in Madrid, to house it. The sale has gone down in history as the largest transfer of art from one country to another, since the time of Napoleon, who captured works of art and took them to Paris as spoils of war. 

His marriages and children

During his life time Baron Hans Heinrich married five times by which he had five children. His first marriage was to Princess Theresa de Lippe from an Austrian aristocratic family in 1946, which ended up in divorce 8 years later in 1954, and by which he had a son, Georg Heinrich. His second marriage in 1954, was to Nina Dyer, the Anglo-Indian fashion model based in Paris. The marriage ended up in divorce two years later in July 1956, after Nina Dyer fell in love with an impoverished French actor. There were no children by this marriage. His third marriage in September 1956 was to Fiona Campbell Walter, a New Zealand born British photographic and fashion model. The marriage that lasted nine years, until January 20, 1965, produced two children, a son Lorne and daughter Francesca. His fourth marriage in December, 1967, was to Liane Denise Shorto, daughter to a Brazilian banker, that lasted for 17 years until November 29, 1984, and produced one son, Wilfried Alexander. His fifth and last marriage in August 1985, was to the beautiful Maria del Carmen Rosairo Cervera, who was Miss Spain in 1961, and the widow of Lex Barker the film actor. The Baron was 64 years at the time of this marriage, and Maria Carmen Cervera was 42 years The marriage had no issue, but the Baron adopted her son Borja.

His death and burial

Baron Hans Heinrich died in Catalonia, Spain, on April 26, 2002, aged 81 years. He was survived by his fifth wife Carmen Cervera, four children by his previous marriages and a step-son by the fifth marriage. He was buried in the family burial vault of Landsberg Palace in the Ruhr Valley, near Essen, Germany. One interesting fact about Baron Hans Heinrich was that he was a multinational individual, Dutch by birth, German and Hungarian by ancestry, Swiss by citizenship, a resident of Monaco for tax purposes, a guest resident of the United Kingdom, with houses in Chester Square and Gloucestershire, and a permanent resident of Spain in later years, where he finally died, and was buried in Germany.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

His birth and origins

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was born on January 17, 1933, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, France, was the son of His Highness Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III (1877-1957), the hereditary Imam of the Ismaili sect of Shi'ism,  and his third wife Princess Andrèe Aga Khan, the former Andrèe Josephine Carron. His elder half-brother Prince Ali Khan (1911-1960), through whom the succession passed to the present Aga Khan IV, Prince Karim, was the son of Aga Khan III's second wife Cleope Teresa Magliano (1888-1926). Thus Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the present Imam was a nephew to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan.

His early education in Switzerland and University education at Harvard

Prince Sadruddin had his early education in Lausanne, Switzerland, after which he enrolled in the Harvard University's School of Arts and Sciences. While at Harvard he made friends with Paul Matisse, grandson of Henri Matisse, the French impressionist painter, Stephen Joyce, grandson of Irish writer James Joyce and John Train, with whom he subsequently co-founded the "Paris Review" newspaper. After graduation from the School of Arts and Sciences, he did a three-year post graduate program at the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He then returned to Paris, with John Train and founded the "Paris Review" newspaper of which he became the publisher.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, former UN High Commissioner for Refuges

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, former UN High Commissioner for Refuges

© Ismailia . NET

His broad-based education that led to his great achievements in the international diplomatic arena

His postgraduate course in middle eastern studies, coupled with his own studies of the Qur'an and the basic traditions and beliefs of Islam, encouraged by his father, helped in molding the character of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, in the best traditions of western and Islamic education, that subsequently led to his great achievements in the international diplomatic arena. He had a great admiration for the country of his family's origin, Iran, which he described as the cradle of his family. As a child the Prince was introduced to the great traditions of Persian literature by his paternal grandmother who used to recite to him, the great epic poems of Persian History. The Prince was fluent in four of the major languages of Europe, English, French, German and Italian, while being able to speak some Arabic and Persian.

His first international diplomatic assignment to save the archaeological treasures of Egypt in 1958, that turned out to be a tremendous success

In 1958, Prince Sadruddin joined UNESCO as consultant for Afro-Asian projects, and served as the executive secretary to an International Action Committee for the Preservation of Nubia in 1961, which was threatened by the construction of the Aswan high dam across the Nile. Apart from the Nubian monuments, other archaeological treasures that were threatened with destruction, were the treasures of Abu Simbel, and the temples of Philae and Kalabsha. Prince Sadruddin's first international assignment was a tremendous success, as he was able to bring together archaeologists from both the west and the communist bloc, at the height of the cold war, for the common purpose of saving one of  mankind's most ancient heritage.

His second assignment as special envoy to the UNHCR in 1959, another unqualified success

Impressed by the success of his first UN assignment, the United Nations appointed him as adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and was made a special envoy to the UNHCR in 1959, with special focus on the World Refugee Year that fell in 1959-60. During this year he initiated a philatelic program in collaboration with the Universal Postal Union, known as the "Stamp Plan" to raise funds for the activities of the UNHCR, through United Nations member countries. However, the UNHCR's activities during this period was limited in scope, mainly supporting refugees crossing from the Eastern communist bloc.

His appointment as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1966 at the age of 33 years

In 1963, he was appointed as Deputy High Commissioner of the UNHCR, and after serving in this capacity for three years he became the Head of this important arm of the United Nations in January 1966, the youngest ever to lead the organization at the age of 33. He served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the next 12 years, steering the agency through one of its most difficult periods, that was characterized by refugee crises of enormous proportions coming one after another, mainly in the third world countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. As head of the UN refugee agency, his first major challenge was the humanitarian crisis in Biafra that involved more than 2 million internally displaced people, whom he desperately wanted to help, but was unable to do because of the United Nations technical definition of a refugee that excluded internally displaced people. The UNHCR's role in Biafra was taken over by other agencies of the UN such as the UNICEF, the UNDP, the WFP and NGOs like the  ICRC, which did a commendable job to relieve the suffering of innocent civilians. However, after the end of the civil war in Nigeria in 1970, the agency involved itself  in other activities such as the repatriation of Nigerian refugee children from the Ivory Coast and Gabon, back to eastern Nigeria.

His service as High Commissioner for Refugees up to 1977

After the Biafran crisis, more  international refugee crises followed, and Prince Sadruddin as the high commissioner coordinated the international response to these crises that included, the East Pakistan (Bangladesh) crisis of 1971, that uprooted 10 million people; the 1972 crisis in Burundi, that led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutus to neighboring Tanzania; the Ugandan crisis of 1972 that led to the expulsion of tens of thousands of South Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin; and the Indo-Chinese boat people tragedy of the mid-1970s. During his 12 year tenure up to 1977, Prince Sadruddin widened the UNHCR mandate well beyond its original focus on Eastern Europe, and extended the organization's reach to millions of refugees from the third world, that included Palestine, Vietnam, Angola, Algeria, Chile etc. During this period his skills as an international diplomat was put to the greatest test out of which he came out with flying colors. By the end of 1977, when he chose to step down on his own accord he had become the longest-serving high commissioner in the history of the organization.

Other senior UN roles held by Prince Sadruddin

After stepping down from the UNHCR in 1977, Prince Sadruddin was appointed as Special Consultant and Charge de Mission to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Commission, Convener and Co-Chairman of the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, and of the Independent Working Group on the UN Financial Emergency. Between 1988 to 1990 he served as the Co-ordinator for the United Nations Humanitarian and Economic Assistance Programs relating to the people of Afghanistan, and after the Gulf War of 1991 was appointed as Special UN Representative for Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq and Kuwait. The latter assignment was another challenging task that put his diplomatic skills to the test once again. The United Nations was planning to establish a relief program for tens of thousands of Shia Muslims, who were trapped in worsening conditions in the marshlands of Southern Iraq, and this involved getting the consent of the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein. In spite of Saddam Hussein's deep suspicions of the UN, Prince Sadruddin successfully negotiated with the Iraqi regime and obtained their consent for the relief program. His work in Iraq convinced him that the United Nations sanctions placed on Iraq hurt the civilian population more than the Iraqi regime, and urged the quick lifting of sanctions to ease the situation. His diplomatic skills again came to the fore, when in November 1991, he successfully negotiated the release of the British businessman Ian Richter, who had been jailed for life in Iraq in 1986 on bribery charges. After Richter's release he was flown back to Britain in the Prince's private jet.

His nomination for the post of UN Secretary General

Prince Sadruddin was nominated twice for the exalted post of the UN Secretary General. His first nomination was in 1981, when he emerged as the most favorite candidate to succeed Kurt Waldheim as the Secretary General. Prince Sadruddin obtained more votes in the formal ballot than Javier Perez de Cuellar, but unfortunately he was shot down by a veto from the Soviet Union, which considered him too pro-Western. Ten years later in 1991, he was nominated again, but this time failed to gain the approval of the United States and Britain, who felt he was too pro-Iraq, and would become a stumbling block to further their own agenda in Iraq. So ended the good intentions of nations who sponsored him for the highest job at the United Nations, convinced of his honesty, integrity, negotiating skills, proven track record as an international diplomat and above all his concern for fellow human beings suffering from the effects of cruel wars.

Prince Sadruddin's involvement in global environmental issues

After stepping down from duties of the United Nations, Prince Sadruddin became increasingly involved with global ecological issues that threatened the continued existence of life on this planet. In 1977, the year he stepped down as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he together with Denis de Rougement and other like-minded individuals, established a Geneva-based think tank known as the "Group de Bellerive" to highlight global environmental issues. They set up a non-profit organization, known as the "Bellerive Foundation" whose primary objectives were the promotion of environmental protection, natural resource conservation and the safeguarding of life in all its forms. To further its objectives, the foundation worked in collaboration with other international institutions, such as the British and Scandinavian bilateral aid organizations, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. In fact the Prince himself was a long-standing trustee and former Vice-President of the World Wide Fund for Nature International. The Bellerive Foundation supported the WWF's program for threatened species worldwide. Bellerive also worked with the UNICEF in fighting against deforestation, and promoted the use of energy-efficient cooking stoves in Africa, that relied on renewable energy sources, such as bio-gas (methane) thus reducing the need for cutting down trees. As a Swiss-based organization Bellerive was also concerned with the devastation caused in its own immediate environment, the deforestation of the European Alps. Accordingly in 1990, Prince Sadruddin launched a program known as Alp Action, at the World Economic Forum, aimed at conserving the mountain ecosystem and preserving its biodiversity. Presently the activities of the Bellerive Foundation has been merged with the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation, to form the "Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment."

His collection of Islamic art dating from the 10th century A.D.

Prince Sadruddin during his life time built up one of the finest collections of Islamic Art in the world, consisting of paintings, drawings, manuscripts and miniatures, that originated in Arabia, Persia, Turkey and India, and dating from the 10th century A.D. His interest in Islamic art started during his youth, motivated by his paternal grandmother's library of Persian books, mystical texts and astrological treatises. He acquired his collection from dealers in New York, Paris, Geneva and London, starting from his years at Harvard in the 1950s. He also bid for pieces of Islamic art at Sotheby's and Christie's auctions held in Europe and the United States, and was assisted by Stuart Cary Welch, a well known historian of Islamic art at Harvard University. His collection had been exhibited in New York, London and Zurich. The British Museum also organized a touring show of his collection in 1998, known as "Princes, Poets and Paladins." Plans are now underway to house his entire collection in a new museum being established in Toronto, Canada, by the present Aga Khan, Price Karim.

His marriages and family life

Prince Sadruddin first married Nina Dyer, an Anglo-Indian fashion model, and the former wife of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, on August 27, 1957. The Prince was 24 and Nina Dyer 27 at the time of their marriage. Nina Dyer converted to Islam, and took the name "Shirin" meaning sweet in Persian. The couple had no children and were separated in 1960, and finally divorced in 1962. For the next 10 years, he was deeply involved with his work as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and had hardly any time to think about a second marriage. However in November 1972, he did take a second wife, and the marriage took place in the British West Indies. He married Catherine Aleya Beriketti Sursock, the former wife of the Greek national Cyril Sursock. She converted to Islam under the name of Aliya bint Abdullah. The marriage turned out to be very successful, even though the Prince had no children of his own by this marriage. He adopted Catherine's three children by her former marriage, Alexandre, Marc and Nicholas Sursock. Prince Sadruddin and Catherine were popular residents in their neighborhood, and well-liked  figures in the Geneva social scene.

The Prince's character and dealings in life was a manifestation of his lineage

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan's paternal lineage goes back to Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, through the Prophet's daughter Fatima and cousin Ali. His grandmother was the granddaughter of the Qajar Emperor Fath Ali Shah. The Prince was keenly aware of his sacred lineage and links to the Persian nobility, and these rich traditions inherited by him clearly manifested itself in his mild personality, impeccable character, his concern for fellow human beings, especially the poor and the dispossessed and  for environmental issues that threatened the entire human kind. Quite appropriately it has been said that Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan actually represented the moral and compassionate side of the international community.

His death and burial

The Prince died of cancer, in Boston, Massachusetts on May 12, 2003, at the age of 70 years. His body was conveyed to Switzerland, to his residence at the Chateau de Bellerive, and in accordance with his wishes the burial took place at a private ceremony, in the local cemetery of Collonge-Bellerive, attended by members of his family. Traditional Islamic burial ceremonies were conducted by Sheik Ahmed Ahmed Ibrahim of Egypt, who conducts prayers at the mausoleum of the late Prince's father, Aga Khan III, in Aswan, Egypt.

A tribute from the Canton of Geneva read as follows :-

The destiny of this family of high Persian nobility, descended from the Prophet Muhammad, is inextricably linked to that of this small European town, and to an ambitious project to improve the human condition."

The Prince was survived by his wife Catherine, his three stepsons Alexandre, Marc and Nicholas, his nephews Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, and Prince Amyn, his niece Princess Yasmin, and his cousin Mme Francoise Carron.

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Related :-

1) Drexel Pearl

2) Black Beauty Pearl

3) Begum Blue Diamond

References :-

1) Christie's Sale 1368 - A Rare Colored Pearl Necklace, By Cartier,

2) Nina Dyer - Princess with two panthers - names robin

3) Christie's Jewelry Collecting Guide, Famous Collections -

4) David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary - Model Ways,

5) Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

6) Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

7) An old master and his many mistresses - Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen- Bornemisza De Kaszon, Art Collector 1921-2002. - The Telegraph, London.

8) Genial diplomat shone under fire - June 16, 2003, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, UN High Commissioner, 1933 to 2003. - The Telegraph, London.

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Dr Shihaan Larif
Founder Internet Stones.COM



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