The Nizam jewel collection is reputed to be one of the world's finest. It belonged to a former Indian princely dynasty, but was acquired by the Indian government in 1995 after a lengthy legal battle. The government is putting the gems on public display in the Indian capital next week.

They are 173 items of jewelry reported to be among the world's most exquisite and expensive royal collections. They belonged to a fabulously wealthy dynasty that had ruled over parts of Southern India's Deccan Plateau for seven generations, from 1724 to 1948.

The rulers were known as the Nizams of Hyderabad. Theirs was among the hundreds of princely dynasties that remained intact during the years that the British ruled India but was disbanded soon after the country became independent in 1947.

Revenues from their vast kingdom helped successive Nizams acquire legendary gems from all over the world. In India they were set by renowned craftsmen into a collection fit for kings, ranging from gem encrusted turbans and belts to exquisite necklaces and armbands.

Among the jewels is one of the world's largest and most glittering diamond, the oval shaped, 185 carat, Jacob diamond. One of the Nizams is reported to have used it as a paper weight. The last ruler, Osman Ali Khan, who lived a frugal lifestyle, had hidden most of the jewels in odd places. After he died, the Jacob diamond was found wrapped in a dirty rag.

India's Minister of Tourism and Culture Anath Kumar heaped praise on the collection. "It is national treasure, national heritage of a very colorful era. I think it will be a very rare occasion for the art lovers of the country as well as of the entire world to have a feel of them, to see them," he said.

Osman Ali Khan left the famed jewels to several trusts to safeguard his ancestral heritage. The government decided to acquire the jewels when it was reported that the trustees were trying to sell them to foreign byuers. The gems were acquired under the law passed in the 1970s allowing the government to take over any item in the country designated as national heritage.

After 18 years of legal wrangling between the royal descendants and the government, the state eventually bought the Nizam collection for approximately $47 million. Its present value is reported to be much higher.

For centuries these jewels have only been viewed by kings, their ministers, royal guests and security guards. Next week's exhibition will give ordinary people a rare opportunity to have a glimpse at the last symbols of a bygone era. The jewels will then travel to other Indian cities.