A majestic, historic diamond brooch designed as a double-headed eagle was recently sold at Sotheby’s. Initially it belonged to Leopold-Salvator of Habsburg-Lorraine, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Tuscany (1863-1931). The brooch was passed on to his descendants until it was sold in May 2021.
The double-headed eagle is significant because it symbolizes the coat of arms of the House of Austria. It’s entirely set with with cushion-shaped, round, single-cut and rose-cut diamonds. Whenever such historic jewels are sold I often wonder who the buyer is and if they plan on wearing the jewels. Here’s hoping that we see this unique brooch either worn or in a museum somewhere.
After a public auction in 1887, the French Crown Jewels were sold and dispersed around the world. However, after more than a century away, some of those jewels would find their way home. We’ve already talked about Empress Eugénie’s Pearl and Diamond Tiara returning home to France. Let’s take a look at another bejeweled treasure once owned by Empress Eugénie.
Eugénie de Montijo, a Spanish countess, was born in Granada, Spain in 1826. She became the last Empress of France when she married Napoleon III in 1853. Empress Eugénie, a fashionista, was considered one of the most beautiful queens of her era. As such, she commissioned a number of bejeweled items. One such item was the Diamond Bow Brooch made in 1855 by Parisian jeweler François Kramer.
The Diamond Bow Brooch was originally meant to be used as a belt buckle, however Empress Eugénie, to accommodate her fashionable needs, had it converted into a stomacher. Her jeweler enhanced the brooch’s grandeur by adding five diamond pampilles, a design that imitates icicle-shaped cascades, and a pair of diamond tassels.
After Napoleon III lost his throne, the brooch, along with the other French royal jewels, was sold in the infamous auction of 1887. This particular piece was bought by jeweler Emile Schlesinger on behalf of Mrs. Caroline Astor (1830-1908), the famous Astor millionaire and matriarch. It stayed with the Astor family for over 100 years. The family even referred to it as “Mrs. Astor’s diamond stomacher.” After her death in 1908, Mrs. Astor’s jewelry collection was dispersed between her five children. Exactly one hundred years later, the brooch was being prepared to be sold at auction via Christie’s.
When the Louvre and the Friends of the Louvre learned that this French 19th century brooch was up for auction they couldn’t allow the historic brooch to slip through their fingers. Christie’s must have been in agreement because at the last minute the brooch’s public auction, scheduled for April 15, 2008, was cancelled. Instead, with the full support of the brooch’s owner, a private sale was conducted between Friends of the Louvre and François Curiel, the President of Christie’s Europe.
The Diamond Bow Brooch has been on public display at the Louvre Museum ever since.
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?
Recently, Sotheby’s sold at their annual Royal & Noble auction a diamond brooch for £5,292.
The brooch is not marked by a specific jeweler, so it’s difficult to ascertain its maker or country of origin. However, it was listed as “Property of a Lady of Title” giving the diamond brooch an aristocratic, possibly even royal, provenance.
The total diamond weight is approximately 4.50 to 5.50 carats and was made circa 1800 or later. The brooch is designed in the shape of a flower and mounted en tremblant, which was the preferred jewelry style of that time period.
I think it’s stunning and I’d wear it in a heartbeat. I hope the lucky buyer enjoys it immensely.