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.
The gold diadem of Grand Duchess Stéphanie von Baden (née de Beauharnais) is set with pearls and diamonds. Since Stéphanie spent time at Napoleon’s court, the diadem was probably made in Paris. It’s remarkable that even though it was made in the beginning of the 19th century, the bejeweled headpiece remains in such excellent condition.
Napoleon adopted his wife Joséphine’s cousin, Stéphanie, and bestowed upon her an imperial rank. In a dynastic match to consolidate power, Napoleon arranged the marriage of Stéphanie to Hereditary Grand Duke Carl von Baden. Though they produced five children, it wasn’t a happy marriage. After Carl’s death, Stéphanie enjoyed widowhood very much and never remarried. Instead, she cultivated the arts and acted as a much-loved hostess of literary salons.
After Stéphanie died in 1860, her daughter Joséphine von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, inherited the headpiece. Over the years, however, the diadem changed hands several times. In 1930 it came into the ownership of Marie José of Belgium, spouse to Crown Prince Umberto of Italy, who later became the month-long King Umberto II. (In this image, Marie José of Belgium wears the diadem low across her forehead.) Eventually it was acquired by the State of Baden-Württemberg for Mannheim Palace, where it remains on permanent display.