The Beau Sancy
THE BEAU SANCY
by Diana Scarisbrick
Happily coinciding with the celebrations marking the Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, Sotheby's auction of the Beau Sancy, underscores the pre-eminence of the diamond, symbolic of royalty. Moreover, this wonderful stone carries with it an extraordinary history.
The first royal owner was Marie de Medici's , (1573-1642) the richest heiress in Europe, who in 1600 married Henri IV, considered the greatest king ever to rule France. She was not only wealthy but very grand, being descended from the Medici through her father, Francesco, Grand Duke of Tuscany and from the Habsburgs through her mother Joanna, daughter of the Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria. Proud of these dynastic connections, brought up in the Florentine splendour of the Pitti Palace, surrounded by ceremony and etiquette, she dreamt of becoming a queen, an ambition fuelled by the prediction of a Sienese nun that she would indeed have a kingdom of her own. When the nun was eventually proved right, Marie de Medicis was well prepared to assert her royal authority by displaying magnificent jewels. These, even more than works of art, were undoubtedly her passion1 . From her father, Francesco, a connoisseur of gems, she had learnt that no other precious stone conveys the desired aura of majesty more effectively than the diamond. This is because the beautiful colours of the ruby, emerald and sapphire cannot be seen from afar, whereas the diamond, by absorbing light and then reflecting it with intensity and brilliance has the power of drawing the distant eye towards itself with the speed of lightning. It therefore makes the wearer stand out from a crowd, demonstrating rank, and commanding awe and respect. She therefore determined to acquire the largest diamonds then known, the Sancy and the Beau Sancy, respectively weighing 55.132 and 34 ½ carats, named after the diplomat and financier, Nicolas Harlay de Sancy. Probably acquired in Constantinople, they came from the legendary river beds and rocks of Golconda, on the East side of the Deccan plateau, now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, and the sole source of diamonds until the discovery of mines in Brazil in 1725. Although both stones are pear-shaped and display the new rose cut, the smaller and more numerous facets of the Beau Sancy are centred on an eight pointed star, which gives it a very distinctive character. In 1604, angry and disappointed after losing the Sancy, which had been bought by James I of England to wear in his hat, Queen Marie hastened to acquire the Beau Sancy for her private collection. In homage to its importance, she had it set at the top of the pearl and diamond crown she wore to marvellous effect for her coronation at St. Denis in 1610. In the portrait by Franz Pourbus, as she appeared on that occasion, she wears an ermine lined purple mantle embroidered with fleurs-de-lis, her face is framed by a lace stand up collar, her wide sleeves are slashed and there are wide lace cuffs at her wrists. Besides her crown, all the other jewels -a parure of sleeve clasps, girdle, grand cross hung with pearls, drop pearl earrings, round pearls at her neck and wrists and a great diamond ring, -were created in the most up-to-date style by the best Parisian makers. Since the role of the goldsmith had now been supplanted by the stone setter, the emphasis is on the diamonds all table-cut- which are surrounded only by narrow, plain gold borders, and combined most beautifully with the pearls. This was Queen Marie's apotheosis, for the very next day her husband was assassinated and, since the heir, Louis XIII, was only nine years old, she assumed the responsibility of Regent. In the following years, as the mother of the King of France, of the Queens of England and Spain, she might have felt she had succeeded in this role, but she proved incapable of controlling the religious and political dissentions, quarrel led with her son and made an implacable enemy of Cardinal Richelieu after launching him on his brilliant career. By 1630 her situation had become so dangerous that she was obliged to flee from France and for the rest of her life remained in exile. Protected by her cousin, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, she lived first in Brussels but after the latter's death in 1633 she went to England and to Holland for short stays, and finally settled in Cologne. As she grew older and more decrepit, faced with impoverishment and abandoned by her family she was in danger of losing all her jewels -including the Beau Sancy- which were pledged to pawn brokers and which she could not redeem. In the end, which came on July 3rd 1642, what was left was sold to pay her funeral expenses, servant's wages and pensions, charitable bequests, and debts to butchers, grocers etc. The great stone which had symbolised her moment of glory, her liberality and magnificence, had already passed into other hands.
This time the buyer was the statesman and general, Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, Count of Nassau, (1584-1647) Stadtholder or First citizen of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Maritime expansion and commercial enterprise had made the Dutch republic rich, but the seventeenth century was also a golden age for art and literature. As head of this prosperous state, Prince Frederick Henry displayed a taste for luxury and the trappings of royalty, shared by his ambitious, clever and good looking wife, the German noblewoman, Amalia von Solms. Delighting in society and adding dignity to their court at The Hague she succeeded so well that the English ambassador reported home that he had "never seen such splendour on this side of Persia as at the Stadtholder's court". Monarchs in all but name, they organised the christening ceremony of their son William, born in 1626, as if he were the heir to ancient dynasty, and in 1641 arranged his marriage with the ten year old Mary Stuart, Princess Royal, daughter of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria of England. In keeping with the status of the young couple, Prince Frederick Henry gave the Beau Sancy to his new daughter-in-law, granddaughter of Marie de Medicis, the previous owner. Although this diamond might have been already presented at the time of her wedding, what is certain is that on April 9th 1642 Prince Frederick Henry paid G.B. Beni, an Italian dealer living in Amsterdam, 80.000 guilders for it . In the opinion of the court jeweller, Thomas Cletscher, who valued the stone at 150.000 guilders this was a great bargain. Cletscher compiled an album with annotated drawings of both the Sancy and the Beau Sancy, and the pearls and diamonds which Queen Henrietta Maria brought to Holland for sale in the hope of raising funds for her husband's cause in the Civil War.
Not much is known about the "very royal and very proud" Princess Mary, until 1650, when a week after her husband died, she gave birth to a son who was to become William III of England. Then in 1659 she pawned the Beau Sancy to finance the restoration of her brother Charles II, joined him for his coronation in London in 1660 and died there a year later as a victim of the plague. Amalia von Solms, who as grandmother, was appointed guardian of William, also had the task of redeeming the Beau Sancy and retrieving other jewels which Princess Mary had taken to England and were claimed by her family. All these problems had been resolved in 1677 when the marriage of William with his cousin Mary, daughter of the future James II, took place, and the bride was given the Beau Sancy for her collection. Both husband and wife were patrons of the arts and recognised the political importance of luxury. Inspired by Versailles, they employed the French architect, Daniel Marot, to create palatial settings for them in Holland. After they had successfully invaded England in 1688 where they were crowned joint sovereigns, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court were redecorated in the same court style, with silver furniture, great state beds, lacquer cabinets and masses of blue and white porcelain. As for jewellery, Queen Mary must have agreed with Robert de Berquen, Les Merveilles des Indes , (1669) that the diamond "plus il est grand et parfait, plus il est exquis, il est le vrai soleil d'entre toutes les pierres" (the larger and more perfect the more exquisite it is, standing out from other stones like the sun) and she paid more than £12.000 for another important stone from Sir William Langhorne, Director of the East India Company. As she wished, the extraordinary light effects from both stones, shining out from her head and from her breast made a great impression at candle lit evening receptions in London and at The Hague. With her premature death in 1694, and his in 1702, the grandeur of their reign came to an end.
Since William and Mary's marriage was childless, the Beau Sancy passed by inheritance to Frederick III, Elector Prince of Brandenburg, son of Louise, daughter of Stadholder Frederick Henry and of Amalia von Solms. From small beginnings, by great cunning and cleverness he had himself crowned Frederick I King in Prussia in 1701, an event described as "one of most astonishing events of self promotion in modern history". Fond of formality, glitter and ceremony, he too imitated the splendour of Versailles, surrounded his palace with Swiss guards, adopted the rigid etiquette of the court of Spain and kept himself in informed about the latest French fashions in jewellery through his wife's cousin, Liselotte, married to the brother of Louis XIV. Set in the crown, the Beau Sancy, as the most important stone in the Prussian Crown jewels, symbolised the aspirations of the House of Prussia. Throughout the century Prussian military ambitions were consolidated, notably by Frederick II, called the Great (reigned 1740-86) whose phenomenal victories laid the foundations of a united Germany. During his reign the Beau Sancy was then reset for Queen Elizabeth Christine, in a bouquet jewel with other diamonds, in the rococo taste, epitomised by her husband's Potsdam retreat, Sans Souci. Her successors continued to wear it in this way but by 1822 it had been removed so it could be worn as a pendant to a necklace of twenty two rose-cut diamonds.
Hidden from the invading armies of Napoleon, the Beau Sancy remained untouched in the state collection, until it was attached to another more important necklace, composed of brilliant- cut stones. Later it was mounted as a pendant only and hung on the stomacher worn by Queen Augusta at the coronation of King William I at Konigsberg in 1861. Meanwhile, Prussia went from strength to strength, gaining more territories, and laying the foundations of industrial pre-eminence. Successfully planned by Otto von Bismarck, the zenith of Prussian military power was attained in 1871 when King William of Prussia, having defeated the French, was proclaimed German Emperor in the Great Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. At home, this triumph gave a boost to court life, and from the accession of William II in 1888 until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, the palaces of Berlin and Potsdam were the settings for brilliant events celebrating the Emperor's birthdays, royal marriages, anniversaries and state visits. On these occasions, which were attended by the former rulers of Saxony, Bavaria, Wurtemberg, who all had fine hereditary jewellery, the Beau Sancy would certainly be displayed by the Empress. It was the same at the stately court balls at which, Lillie Hegermanne-Lindencrone, wife of the Danish ambassador observed, as many as fifty princesses might be present. The Beau Sancy was also part of the picturesque royal family weddings when it was customary for the bride to wear the crown jewels to demonstrate the riches of the house to which she belonged. Somehow, by great good luck, the Beau Sancy survived the vicissitudes of twentieth century German history and every so often was put on public exhibition, notably in 1972 in Helsinki when Herbert Tillander, the Finnish historian of diamond cutting, united it with the Sancy, after a separation of 370 years. In his opinion, the Beau Sancy thoroughly deserved the name it had been given by its first owner, and he also considered the cutting "an incredible masterpiece of precision and artistic inventiveness". Now, with this sale, the Beau Sancy, for so long the talisman of the House of Prussia, leaves it to begin a new chapter in its momentous history.
MARIE DE MEDICI - The Diamond Queen of France
by Vincent Meylan
The fact that Marie de Medici is mainly remembered by the historians for being one the most, if not «the most» , disastrous queen France ever had is largely unfair. In 1610, after the death of her husband, the beloved King Henri IV, she became Regent of the kingdom. Their older son, King Louis XIII was only nine at the time. Surrounded by sycophants and very religious, Marie ruled the country for seven years, or, as most historians usually write, France was ruled by her two best friends, Concino Concini and his wife Léonora Galigaï. During these seven years, the royal treasure, once full of gold coins amassed by Henri IV and his faithful minister, Sully, was looted and France almost ruined. But on the other hand she should also be remembered for being one the most refined women France has ever known.
Born in Florence on the 26th of April 1575, she was the daughter of Grand Duke Francesco de Medici and belonged to the most illustrious family of the Italian Renaissance.
Her father, grand-father, uncles and ancestors had all been major patrons of the arts: painting, sculpture, architecture and even jewellery. As her mother, Jeanne of Austria, died when she was only five years old, her father remarried his mistress, the infamous, but very beautiful Bianca Capello. Although she hated her stepmother, Marie must have picked up some of her habits, as Bianca was famous for her extravagant way of life, her beautiful clothes, her costly perfumes and astonishing collection of jewels.
Arriving in France in 1600 -she was 25 years old and rather old by the standards of the time- Marie must have been appalled by the court she discovered in Paris. After more than 25 years of civil war between the Protestants and the Catholics, King Henri IV had finally succeed in uniting the country and reconquering all it's territories. But nothing, or very little, was left of the once brilliant heritage of the Valois Kings: François 1er and Henri II. The Louvre Palace was little more than a ruin. Most of the paintings and the furniture had been pillaged and the crown jewels had been pawned so many times that only a few pieces were left for the new French queen to wear.
Fortunately, Marie was an heiress and her family's fortune was one the main reasons for the French king to accept to marry her. Part of her dowry was the national debt France owed to the Medici's Bank which is said to have been around 600 000 gold coins, a considerable amount of money at the time. The other part was an amazing trousseau and a personal treasure casket full of diamonds, pearls and other precious stones. A glimpse of her personal collection of jewellery can be taken in reading the inventory made in 1610, the year she was crowned in the basilique Saint Denis, near Paris.
It lists 11 538 diamonds. Among them, 4000 are described as "small diamonds" which could suggest that all the others must have been rather big. Her main piece of jewellery was a diamond necklace worth "150 000 gold coins". She also had 6 other necklaces made of pearls, diamonds and rubies. The inventory mentions numerous chains made of pearls, diamonds, coloured stones and even turquoises, twelve bracelets, many hair ornaments, pendants, earrings and rings. It seems that she was the first French queen to have worn watches as pieces of jewellery as she owned five of them. Ironically one of her main hair ornaments, set with a big "rubis balais", in fact a spinel, came from the estate of one of her husband's mistress, the famous Gabrielle d'Estrée, Duchess of Beaufort. Her 69 most impressive pearls were mounted in a necklace worth 35 000 gold coins. 203 other pearls were set in another necklace worth 26 600 gold coins and 263 smaller ones were set in a third necklace. All the other pearls -she owned some 5000 of them- seem to have been used on very ornate pieces of jewelry.
As it was the custom, some of the bigger stones were not mounted in a piece of jewellery but could be used in one way or another depending on their owners' desire. Marie de Medici's inventory mentions two great diamonds, one of them being "le grand diamant taillé à facette des deux côtés, acheté 25 000 écus à monsieur de Sancy" , "The great diamond faceted on both sides, bought from monsieur de Sancy".
Thanks to the amazing research published by Bernard Morel in his book about the French crown jewels, it is today certain that this beautiful stone, the "Beau Sancy" was mounted on the top of Marie's crown on the day of her coronation in 1610. The famous painting by Pourbus, now in the collections of the Louvre museum, shows the queen in her full regalia. The great diamond cross she is wearing on the front of her dress belonged to the crown jewels, but all the other jewels, the big pearls, the square diamonds and the crown were part of her own private collection. The Beau Sancy was definitely a witness of that coronation. Therefore it definitely belongs to the history of France.
It is strange to imagine, that the day after that coronation, King Henri IV was murdered in the streets of Paris by Ravaillac and Marie became a widow and the Regent of the kingdom. Although it is usually judged as disastrous, Marie's regency was brilliant, at least for the arts. She loved music and danced well. She commissioned beautiful pieces of furniture to adorn her private apartments. She was very coquette and was famous for her love of beautiful clothes, laces and fans. It is not untrue to assume that she is one of the original patrons of the art of fashion and luxury goods for which France and Paris have remained famous until today. The Paris merchants loved her as she used to spend so much money in their shops. And one of them, the Maison Mellerio which still exists today, at number 9 rue de la Paix was awarded it's first royal warrant by her in December 1613.
One of her very distinctive habits was the perfumes she used. Something rather unknown in France at the time. She even wore perfumed gloves. However she may have had a very private reason for using so many perfumes. King Henry IV, and most of the French court, were notorious for their lack of hygiene and it is said that the smells in the Louvre palace and even around the king himself were dreadful.
Her reign came to a violent end in 1617 when Louis XIII, who was afraid he might be assassinated by his mother's favorite, Concino Concini, had him executed as he was arriving at the Louvre on the 24th April. Marie was then exiled at the castle of Blois in the Loire Valley. She escaped two years later using a rope ladder and taking with her a box full of her most important jewels. No doubt the "Beau Sancy", the other diamonds, and the pearls were in that box.
After two years of war against her son, her armies were finally defeated. But the king decided his mother would be less of a danger at his side, than exiled in a castle.
Therefore, in 1621, Marie came back to Paris and took up residence in the new palace which was built to her order on the left bank of the city. It still exists as the palace of Luxembourg, where the French Senate resides today. Her favourite painter, Rubens, was commissioned to paint a set of 24 paintings depicting the glory of her life. Those paintings are now part of the collection of the Louvre Museum.
Unfortunately, the reconciliation did not last very long. In 1631, Marie escaped again and this time she decided to leave France to take up residence in Bruxelles. That decision proved to be a fatal mistake. Louis XIII and his formidable prime minister, Cardinal de Richelieu, understood that the old queen was harmless abroad. And abroad she remained until the end of her life. As she had chosen to rebel once more against her king, who was also her son, Louis XIII choose to stop sending her the pension due to her as dowager Queen of France.
The jewels she took with her to Belgium, and later to Germany, proved very useful when she had to borrow money from Dutch and German banks in order to survive.
Unfortunately she died, rather penniless, in Cologne on the 3rd of July 1642. More than one year later, on the 8th of March 1643, she was buried in the basilique Saint Denis, the very church where she had been crowned 33 years earlier. But this time the "Beau Sancy" was not a witness to the ceremony. It had been sold to settle part of the amazing debts left by Queen Marie de Medici.
Vincent Meylan is a French journalist and a jewellery historian. He has written many books. The latest one, Boucheron, the secret archives, has just been published in English.
He is currently working on a new book, about Van Cleef and Arpels.
DIAMOND - The Emblem of Royalty
by David Bennett
The fact that the Beau Sancy was first worn by Marie de Medici in 1610 as the principle stone and centrepiece of her coronation crown indicates very clearly the importance of the diamond at this time as the supreme emblem of Royalty. On a symbolic level, diamonds are associated with the sun, our ''Daystar'', the dynamic centre of our cosmos and thus the source of all life and light. What better stone therefore could be used to illustrate the parallel with the position and central role of the Monarch within his Kingdom? Indeed, later the same century, King Louis XIV would go a step further and call himself ''Le Roi Soleil''.
The Beau Sancy, which was cut and polished towards the end of the 16th century, exhibits the first attempts to liberate the 'fire' inherent in the stone - a property of diamond so familiar and so admired today, but which, due to the absolute hardness of the crystal which rendered cutting so difficult, had only just begun to be exploited. By the use of the newly-developed 'rose' style of cutting, which employed a myriad of triangular facets covering the entire surface of the crystal, the light which entered the stone was reflected and dispersed, broken up on the way into the colours of the rainbow. This was totally new. No other precious gem, then or since, has been able to exhibit this phenomenal transformation of light. It is this that made the Beau Sancy so utterly irresistible to Marie de Medici and it was to become the supreme solar symbol of her Monarchy.
The crown, at the moment of coronation, is placed on the Monarch's head from above by the representative of the Church and Spiritual Authority, and in doing so the lesser, Temporal Authority is vested on the King or Queen. It is not difficult to imagine the scene at the Abbey of St Denis on the 13th May 1610. The vast space is packed with a huge congregation eager to participate in the spectacle, and Marie de Medici's crown is attracting all eyes as it is lowered onto her head. At its apex, surrounded by other, lesser diamonds, the Beau Sancy, proud and magnificent, captures and throws back the light of a thousand candles and the glancing rays of the midday sun.