Victoria Eugenie was born on October 24th, 1887, at Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. Her grandmother was Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, the youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. To her family and the British general public, she was simply known as Ena.
It was in 1905, at Buckingham Palace, that Ena would make the acquaintance of her future husband, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, at a dinner hosted by her uncle, Kind Edward VII. While it was widely known that the King of Spain sought a suitable bride, most believed the strongest candidate to be Princess Patricia of Connaught, daughter of Kind Edward’s brother, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. Despite Princess Patricia’s best efforts, the King was suddenly struck by Ena’s beauty and her ‘almost white hair’. A year of courtship would ensue followed by instruction at Versailles on the Catholic faith, a must for the future Queen of Spain.
On May 31st, 1906, Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria Eugenie married King Alfonso at the Royal Monastery of San Geronimo in Madrid. Together, they would have seven children, five sons and two daughters. Ena devoted herself to various charitable causes and was actively involved in the reorganization of the Spanish Red Cross. In honour of this work, the city of Barcelona erected a statue of her in a nurse’s uniform, in 1929.
On the 14th of April 1931, the Spanish royal family went into voluntary exile, first to France and later to Italy, hoping to avert a civil war between the Republicans and the Nationalist. Sadly, the King and Queen’s marriage was not always joyous, put to light by the four illegitimate children fathered by Alfonso. Following their separation, Ena purchased a chateau in Vieille Fontaine, near Lausanne, Switzerland. She would reside there until her death on April 15th, 1969, at the age of 81.
Although Cartier had started experimenting with the use of a chromatic palette of carved gemstones in jewels as early as 1915, Cartier’s now famous ‘Tutti Frutti’ jewels were introduced at the Paris exhibition of 1925. These early examples often incorporated gemstones provided by the commissioning client. The use of conch pearls in a bracelet of this period by Cartier is unique; one can only assume that such an element was specifically requested or provided by the client.
Examples of similar bracelets by Cartier of this period normally employ the use of two or three coloured gemstones. This bracelet is rare as it incorporates the use of only one accent colour, the light pink iridescent shades of the conch pearl. And whilst other examples employ carved and polished gemstones, the natural flame like structure of the conch pearl negates any need for carving. Also adding to the illusion of naturalism is the use of black enamel at the base of each ‘fruit’ creating a shadow effect. This bracelet ranks amongst the most important jewels created by Cartier in the inter-war years.
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