Sir John Chardin (1643-1713) 

Sir John Chardin was a French-born jeweller and traveller to the Middle East and India, who later fled to England to avoid Huguenot persecution and became court jeweller to King Charles II. He is best known for his scholarly account of his travels in Persia (present day Iran).

Jean-Baptiste Chardin was born in Paris in 1643, the son of a wealthy Protestant merchant and jeweller. After receiving an excellent education he was apprenticed into his father’s business. As European jewellery was highly prized in India, Jean’s father decided to seek business opportunities there and in 1664 sent his son, together with a merchant from Lyon, overland to the East Indies. By 1666 they reached Persia.

In Persia Jean won the confidence of the Shah, Abbas II, who appointed him as a royal merchant and also commissioned some jewellery of his own design. Jean continued on to India but within a year he came back to Persia, later returning to Paris in 1670.

Having made the jewellery commissioned by the Shah (even though he probably knew that the Shah had by then died), his passion for Persia soon called him back and he set out in 1671. His journey was harrowing and most of his goods were stolen en route but he eventually arrived in mid 1673. He remained in Persia for four years, amassing a considerable fortune, finally returning to Europe by sea in 1677.

Back in France, Jean set about writing a major account of his travels in Persia and the East Indies. He continued his business interests, which included a visit to London, until 1681 when growing anti-Huguenot persecution persuaded him to move to England permanently.

Changing his name to John Chardin, his jewellery business flourished in England, and having been well received at court, he was appointed court jeweller. He was knighted by King Charles II in late 1681, on the same day that he married Esther, the daughter of another Protestant refugee in London. In 1682 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society.

After two years spent in Holland as King Charles’ agent to the East India Company, he retired back to England where he pursued his oriental studies and preparing his travel account for publication in 1686. He died at Chiswick in London at the end of 1713. A monument to him was placed in Westminster Abbey and a portrait of Sir John by an unknown artist hangs in the National Gallery, showing him pointing to Persia on a map of the Middle East.

Sources: Britannica, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Westminster Abbey, National Portrait Gallery

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