From east to west, the royal families of Europe adored sapphire jewellery. The nations of Eastern Europe had their fair share of treasures featuring the timeless gemstone. Many of these jewels exchanged hands multiple times on their journey through the collections of powerful nobility.
Among the numerous jewels owned by the Russian Royal Family, what may be the most breathtaking piece of sapphire jewellery is the Maria Alexandrovna Brooch. The brooch features a massive 260.37 carat oval shaped Ceylon sapphire with a stylized rose cut, surrounded by a 56.60 carat double halo of diamonds, with the inner row of the halo featuring smaller round diamonds and the outer row featuring larger cushion shaped diamonds. The huge sapphire was originally purchased by Alexander II in London at the Great Exhibition of 1862. Alexander had the sapphire set into a brooch by the court jewellers and presented it to Empress Maria as a gift. Two years after the Empress’ death in 1880, the brooch was placed in the care of the Russian Diamond Fund, which still displays the piece to this day. A well-loved Russian treasure, the brooch appeared on U.S.S.R. postage stamps in 1971, and made an appearance in Washington D.C. along with other Romanov jewels to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Grand Duke Alexei of Russia’s visit to the United States. The Maria Alexandrovna Sapphire Brooch is surely a sight to behold, and houses one of the world’s great sapphires.
What is perhaps the most recognizable sapphire jewel of Russian royalty is the Vladimir Sapphire Kokoshnik tiara. The Vladimir Kokoshnik was originally commissioned by Grand Duchess Vladimir and crafted by Cartier in 1909. The tiara was designed around a large 137.20 carat cushion shaped sapphire and six sapphire cabochons with the cushion sapphire featuring as its centrepiece among an array of diamonds. After her death in 1920, the Kokoshnik was inherited by Grand Duke Kirill and Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna. The Duke and Duchess had experienced a number of struggles following the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the couple decided to sell the Kokoshnik tiara to support themselves. The Vladimir Kokoshnik was purchased by the Duchess’s sister, Queen Marie of Romania. The tiara quickly became the Queen’s signature diadem, and she can be seen wearing it in multiple official portraits. Eventually the Queen gave the sapphire Kokoshnik to her daughter Princess Ileana in 1931 as a gift for her wedding to Archduke Anton of Austria. After the exile of Ileana’s family in 1948, the Kokoshnik tiara left Austria with the princess. In 1950 Ileana fled to the United States, bringing the sapphire Kokoshnik with her. Ileana then sold the tiara back to Cartier in order to provide for her family. The tiara was never seen again, and presumably was dismantled by Cartier in order to repurpose its fabulous sapphires. Although it may no longer exist, the Vladimir Sapphire Kokoshnik will always be one of the most notable sapphire diadems in history.
Queen Marie’s sapphire pendant is a phenomenal piece of sapphire jewellery and one of the most hefty sapphire jewels in the world. The pendant holds a monstrous 478.68 carat Ceylon sapphire, one of the largest faceted sapphires in existence. The sapphire was originally set in a sapphire sautoir by Cartier in 1913, but was then set into its own pendant on a diamond and platinum necklace to showcase the stone’s beauty. In 1919, Cartier displayed the necklace at a show in San Sebastián, Spain where a throng of European nobles had the chance to gaze upon it. A number of European queens had their sights set on the sapphire pendant, but it was Queen Marie of Romania who was lucky enough to have her husband, King Ferdinand, purchase it for her. The purchase was officially made in 1921, and Ferdinand reportedly paid 1,375,000 francs for the necklace. Due to World War II, the official coronation ceremony of Ferdinand and Marie did not occur until 1922, but this gave Marie the chance to don the magnificent pendant for the occasion. Years later in 1947, Ferdinand’s grandson Michael took the throne, but his reign was stifled by political pressure to abdicate. Due to these hardships Queen Maries’s pendant was sold to Harry Winston. The pendant was purchased from Harry Winston by a subject of King Paul and Queen Friederica of Greece, and was given to the Queen as a gift. Queen Friederica was seen wearing the pendant on many important occasions in the 1960’s, but following the abolition of the Greek monarchy, the pendant disappeared. Queen Marie’s pendant resurfaced in 2003 at a Christie's auction held in Geneva, Switzerland, where it was sold to a private collector. Since then the pendant has occasionally appeared on display at historical exhibitions, and will always be known as one of the most impressive sapphire jewels of Europe.
Despite how often these jewels moved about Europe, they never failed to attract the attention of onlookers and leave behind a story for future generations to follow. Learn about some of the sapphire jewels donned by British princesses in the next part of this series.
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