I'm reminded of the saying, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it". I email PR representatives for the Royal Treasures gallery in Dubai to enquire about the price of the gallery's Osler chandeliers. They'd rather not say, I'm told. Readers should contact the gallery directly to discuss such matters, which I take to mean "very expensive indeed".
The Royal Treasures gallery is home to the world's largest collection of Osler chandeliers. It is the brainchild of brothers Dinsha and Munchi Shroff, whose dedication to collecting these 19th-century masterpieces has earned them the moniker "the Osler twins".
F and C Osler of London and Birmingham was founded by master craftsman Thomas Osler in 1807. The company, which specialised in high-quality crystal chandeliers, fountains and furniture, would grow to become one of the most important chandelier manufacturers of the 19th century. Queen Victoria reportedly became a fan of Thomas's creations after coming across some Osler tableware at a royal banquet, and ordered a number of personal items from the glass master. In 1851, Osler received worldwide acclaim after creating a 27-foot fountain for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. And to quell demand for western-style opulence from India's mid-century maharajas and nawabs, the company opened a branch in Calcutta, now Kolkata. Individual chandelier pieces were shipped to India and reassembled to create lavish, custom-made fixtures for the country's royalty.
The Shroff brothers bought their first Osler chandelier from a "pedigree" family in Mumbai. The unique piece was reportedly sold three days later for double the price. "We were struck by its immense beauty, and the price it commanded made us decide that we would hunt down every Osler chandelier we could lay our hands on," Munchi Shroff recalls. "All over the world, lovers of Osler crystal chandeliers now seek out our expertise. At any given point in time, we have around 25 to 30 Osler chandeliers with us."
A long-standing love of antiques led the brothers to launch the Ancestry antique boutique in Mumbai in 1995, which stocked a range of exclusive European and Oriental artefacts. "We always lived in a home filled with antiques and developed a fascination for these ancient treasures. It was as if our father, Pallon Shroff, who was a renowned and erudite antique collector, wanted us to realise the value of the heirlooms we were surrounded with, and to appreciate the legacy he was leaving for us. He would insist that we accompany him on his visits and our knowledge base expanded. We would visit unusual places, like the famous antique markets in London, the palaces of maharajas and our own notorious Chor Bazaar, or Thieves Market."
In 2008 and 2009, the brothers visited Dubai to exhibit some of their pieces. The "overwhelming response from the UAE's antique aficionados and artefact enthusiasts" encouraged them to establish a permanent presence in the emirate and, in October last year, the Royal Treasures gallery opened on Diyafah Street. "[Many] Dubai families are blessed with large villas, country homes and palatial houses, which have high ceilings to accommodate large chandeliers," says Shroff.
In addition to Osler and Baccarat chandeliers, the gallery is home to a number of pre-1936 Oriental and European crystal artefacts and antiques, ranging from ornate oud bottles to intricate wooden furniture. The highlight of the collection is a 45-arm Osler chandelier from the 1890s, which is made from the finest white cut crystal and, at 123 inches high, is one of the largest chandeliers ever made by the company.
Such pieces will make a stunning addition to any interior, but are also a sound financial investment, says Shroff, who encourages people to consider antiques as a viable investment opportunity. "With low interest rates and rising inflation, the value of our savings is starting to drift downwards. Buying a good quality antique chair or any artefact for use in the home should prove to be a good long-term investment.
"There is a saying in our business that makes so much sense: "When you buy something new, you are spending your money, but when you buy something old, you are investing your money". Most antiques bought prudently are a great investment as their value is always escalating. The safest and best investment would be to buy an Osler chandelier. The crystal factory started in 1807 and closed down in 1920. Resultantly, almost all chandeliers made in this factory are at least one hundred years old."
The rarity of such pieces and the challenges involved in tracking them down make them all the more valuable. "It is very difficult to find such unique pieces, hence why they are so special. In the end these rarer pieces are great to invest in, due to their higher value and return on investment.
"Our Osler pieces are all one-of-a-kind, as every Osler piece has a unique design. It's always a big challenge to find a pair, which are never identical, but we always manage to fulfil our clients' needs."
If you are looking to invest in antiques, Shroff recommends that you do your homework and expose yourself to a number of different types and styles before committing to a piece. Get a sense of what you like and then do your research, he says.
"Always go for the best quality piece that you can afford, as such pieces will always be recognised and often retain their value in the marketplace. Those in good original condition or sympathetically restored are serviceable and decorative, providing good value for the home and business alike," he adds.
Most importantly, buy from the heart. You should hold on to a piece for at least five years before you can expect to make a decent return on your investment, so make sure that you actually enjoy looking at it. "Only buy an antique if you really like it and want it for your enjoyment," says Shroff.
"Buying antiques is not about investing, it is about buying something you like. Discover a masterpiece you're interested in, as it might be best to keep it at home and love it yourself. Collect as much for the joy of owning a piece as for investment."
For more information, visit www.royaltreasuresantiques.com.