What better way to begin March than by talking about aquamarines!
Today’s aquamarine is a beautiful brooch of imperial provenance. The Siberian Aquamarine Brooch (seen above) is set in an intricate border with a diamond-set trellis motif. It was made by Fabergé’s workmaster Henrik Wigström.
The aquamarine has a happy beginning but ends with a tragedy. The brooch was purchased by Tsar Nicholas II as an engagement present for his bride, Alix of Hesse, in 1894. It cost 1,100 roubles and was one of her many engagement gifts.
Alexandra must have loved the brooch dearly because she took it with her when she, along with her husband and children, was taken to The House of Special Purpose. The brooch must have brought her comfort and perhaps reminded her of happy memories. Alexandra was wearing the jewel up until the minute she was murdered.
The Bolsheviks sold the brooch. Today the jewel is owned by Wartski.
Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi
Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years by Geoffrey C. Munn
Princess Louise, daughter of King Edward VII, was given this magnificent diamond tiara by her new husband, the Duke of Fife. It was designed in 1887 by French jeweler Oscar Massin.
The tiara is set with hundreds of diamonds. You’ll note the large pear shaped diamonds and that they are “swing-set,” allowing them to move and sparkle when the diamonds catch the light. It must have been quite a sight to behold when worn.
Today we know the Halo Tiara as the wedding tiara of the Duchess of Cambridge. But originally it was made for Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) by Cartier in 1936.
The diamond tiara is in the shape of a “halo” and has 16 scrolls. It’s set with 739 brilliant cut diamonds and 149 baton (cut in a long, thin rectangular shape) diamonds. Each scroll is divided by one brilliant cut diamond. The largest diamond is reserved for the center of the tiara.
Today’s bejeweled headpiece is an aigrette. An aigrette is a less formal tiara consisting of white egret’s feather and usually accompanied by a spray of diamonds. They were quite popular in the 19th century with royals, aristocrats and heiresses. This particular aigrette was made circa 1900s. The spray, which is detachable to wear as a brooch, is set with circular-cut diamonds.
Though this piece was created for a woman, men wore aigrettes too. You may have noticed that aigrettes were placed in the turbans of Ottoman sultans.
We don’t see feathered aigrettes worn by royals these days. They fell out of favor between World War I and World War II. Perhaps their usage declined since it’s not very nice to kill birds for their feathers.
What do you say? Is this headpiece a yay or a nay?
For today, I thought I’d share a few royalty-related articles. For me, it’s always fun to talk about royal history. If you feel the same, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.
What remains of France’s aristocracy? – This short video by France 24 is super interesting and fun. It’s about France’s former aristocracy and their grand homes. There is also a tour of an aristocratic chateau and the France 24 journalist meets with an aristocratic family to talk about what it’s like to maintain a chateau.
Ten questions to ask about tiaras. – If you are ever in need of purchasing a tiara (how I wish this was a real problem for me), then read this insightful article by Christie’s.
Germany’s ex-royal family win legal case against historian. – Truly, I’m not sure how I feel about this case. The courts have sided with the Hohenzollern Family in their lawsuit against a historian. Perhaps I do not fully grasp the legal issue at play, but I’m worried that this ruling may lead to future historians and journalists being censored. What do you think?
A royal engagement. – Grand Duke George of Russia is engaged to be married. If you are interested to learn about his imperial Romanov lineage, read my post about it here.
Current royal read. – I’m currently reading Chère Annette: Letters from Russia 1820-1828. It’s a compilation of letters written by Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia to her daughter, Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna. She married the Prince of Orange and moved to the Netherlands. It’s a charming compilation of letters because it’s evident how much the Empress loved her daughter. Are you reading a royal history book?
Today’s tiara is a rarity. The unique diamond and ruby tiara, set in gold, dates to the Ottoman Empire. It was made in Turkey around 1800. Ottoman Sultans retained jewelers at court; in 1526 the Sultan retained around 90 jewelers. This tiara was probably made by such an artisan in the Sultan’s service.
The tiara follows a favorite motif of Ottoman jewelry; nature. The focus of the ornate headpiece is a large diamond floral rosette; its petals set in sparkling diamonds. The floral sprays surrounding the center are set with diamonds and rubies. The crown-like tiara is topped with the star and crescent moon motif.
It was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011 and I can just image the grandeur of this tiara when it was worn. I’d love to see this tiara repaired, polished and worn again, but I don’t think that will happen. My guess is that it was bought for sentimental reasons or to display as decorative art.
Today’s tiara is not of royal provenance, at least none that I’m aware of. However, it was made in St. Petersburg between 1870 and 1900, so I’d like to think that this headpiece saw its fair share of imperial balls.
The tiara is made of silver and does not hold a single gemstone. It is designed as flowering sprays of myrtle. The accompanying brooch matches the tiara’s design and is in the shape of a single rose. The myrtle plant, being a symbol of love, would have made a lovely 19th century wedding gift to a young bride.
Today’s diamond tiara was designed by Marianne Ostier for Oesterreicher (later Ostier, Inc. of New York) for the marriage of Queen Geraldine and King Zog I of Albania in 1938. The tiara depicts the Albanian royal crest of the Ram of Skanderberg. Though the Albanian monarchy is not very old, nor did it last long, the ram is an ancient Albanian symbol dating back centuries.
Per Sotheby’s lot details, the ram sits “atop a graduated floral vine, set with old European and single-cut diamonds weighing approximately 28.05 carats, accented by baguette diamonds weighing approximately 4.80 carats.”
The Albanian monarchy ended in 1939 and Queen Geraldine’s tiara was sold. In 1966, the tiara made its way into the possession of Mamdouha and Elmer Holmes Bobst. After their deaths, it went on the auction block once more, selling in 2016 for $225,000, far exceeding its initial estimate. Though the winner of the auction was a private individual, I’d love to know what they did with the tiara. Did they take it apart for the diamonds (I hope not)? Did they buy it as decorative art? Or did they purchase it to wear to tiara events? The ram makes it such a distinctive piece, that if it is worn in public again we’d all notice. Otherwise, we may never know of its fate. Unless it hits the auction block again.
Next month Sotheby’s is auctioning incredible jewelry from the collection of the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1924-2017). With an illustrious name like Mountbatten, we can’t just delve right into the jewels. Let’s dig into the family genealogy first, shall we?
The 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma was born Patricia Edwina Victoria Mountbatten in 1924. She was the eldest daughter of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979) and his wife, the equally illustrious, Edwina Ashley (1900-1960). If the Mountbatten name seems familiar to you, it’s because Patricia’s father was Britain’s last Viceroy of India, the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was killed by the IRA in 1979. After her father’s assassination, Patricia inherited his peerage in her own right making her the 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma.
Patricia was a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, through her father. The Earl of Mountbatten’s parents were Prince Louis of Battenberg (Mountbatten is the anglicized version of Battenberg and was changed in response to anti-German sentiments) and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine.
Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine was a grandchild of Queen Victoria through her mother, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom. Louis Mountbatten’s sister was Princess Alice, later Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, the mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. This made Patricia a first cousin to Prince Philip.
Patricia married John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne (1924-2005) in 1946. They had eight children together and by all accounts were happily married for almost sixty years. After Patricia’s death, her eldest son, Norton, inherited her title becoming the 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
Now let’s take a look at a few items on the auction block.
On the auction block is this hardstone, enamel and diamond pendant made by goldsmith and jeweler Robert Phillips. It was probably commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1878 in memory of her daughter, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (the grandmother of Earl Mountbatten). It was a terrible shock to Queen Victoria to lose her daughter in 1878. She was Victoria’s first child to die and was only 35 years old. Alice left behind her husband and five children. (Another child died of the same illness, diphtheria, right before Alice.)
It makes sense to me that Queen Victoria commissioned an object to commemorate her second daughter. The back of the pendant has a locket which contains hair, probably Princess Alice’s. The engraved date is Alice’s death. (Sadly, Alice’s family would endure more tragedy forty years later when two of her daughters, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and Tsarina Alexandra, were killed by the Bolsheviks.) Sotheby’s estimates the pendant might fetch between £2,000 and £3,000, but my guess is a higher number.
Also on the auction block is this elegant 18th century brooch brought into the family via the Knatchbulls. The center stone is a cushion-shaped yellow diamond. Sotheby’s estimates the sale to be between £40,000 and £60,000.
This lovely gem and diamond necklace dates from the 1950s. It’s set with carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires and circular cut diamonds. It’s not by Cartier, but it’s in the style of the firm’s famous Tutti Frutti jewelry. Sotheby’s estimates the jewel to sell between £40,000 and £60,000.
Also up for auction is a pair of gem set and diamond clip brooches in the Tutti Frutti inspiration, circa 1930s. The clips match the necklace perfectly, don’t you think? Sotheby’s estimates the sale to bring in between £10,000 and £15,000.