From the record-breaking Donnersmarck Tiara to Empress Eugenie’s natural pearl and diamond tiara, a tiara’s history illustrates not only provenance and family relationships but also the stones that adorn it. Royal tiaras play an enduring role in heritage.
One of the most important tiaras to appear at auction in recent years, this royal tiara dates to the second half of the 19th century. Steeped in the rich history of the House of Savoy, this tiara hails an extraordinary provenance. Likely to have been presented to Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo in 1867 as a wedding gift on the occasion of her marriage to Amedeo of Savoy, Duke of Aosta, later elected King of Spain as Amadeo I (1870- 1873), the tiara, which has remained with the family for over 150 years, is believed to have been created by Musy Padre e Figli – Court Jeweller of Turin, and one of the oldest goldsmiths in Europe.
Composed of graduated scroll motifs set with cushion-shaped, circular- and single-cut diamonds, framing eleven slightly baroque drop-shaped natural pearls, the jewel has more recently been seen worn as an elegant necklace.
The tiara is designed as a succession of eleven graduated scroll motifs, each composed of a natural pearl surrounded by old cut diamonds. The surmount rests on a detachable band composed of cluster and bar motifs set with cushion-shaped diamonds. The scroll motifs are detachable and may be adapted and worn as a necklace. The tiara, which was created by Musy, belonged to Maria Vittoria Carlotta Enrichetta Giovanna dal Pozzo della Cisterna (1847-1876), Duchess of Aosta and Queen of Spain.
Maria Vittoria was born in Paris, on August 9, 1847. Her parents, Carlo Emanuele, Comte dal Pozzo and Prince della Cisterna, and Louise Caroline, Comtesse de Merode-Westerloo, were married in Brussels on September 28, 1846, the same day as Antoinette, sister of Louise Caroline, married Prince Charles III of Monaco. The two sisters had received a more than substantial dowry, which made them very popular choices indeed.
On Ascension Day, May 30, 1867, a 19-year-old Maria Vittoria married Prince Amedeo of Savoy (1845-1890), Duke of Aosta, the youngest son of King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy and Archduchess Adelaide of Austria. The sovereign would have preferred a more prestigious bride for his son but consented in the end. Although the marriage was considered unequal, it seems that the Princess quickly gained the admiration of her father-in-law, as he presented her with a precious pearl necklace with a sapphire and diamond clasp on the morning of her wedding, which was held in the chapel of the Royal Palace of Turin.
Maria Vittoria had amassed a valuable collection of pearls which could compete with that of her sister-in-law Margherita, Princess of Savoy-Genoa. Margherita had married, in 1868, Prince Umberto, the elder brother of Maria-Vittoria’s husband, Prince Amedeo. Margherita would later be bestowed with the nickname “Queen of Pearls”. The high-quality pearls of the diadem found an echo in the many ropes of pearls belonging to the Duchess of Aosta, who also had earrings and numerous appliques enhanced with drop pearls from the Far East.
Amedeo and Maria Vittoria were to soon embark on an incredible adventure: due to the political unrest in Spain, the Cortes proposed the Prince as the successor to the Bourbon throne in 1870. Amedeo took this role, but abdicated in 1873, after just three years, as he was unable to resolve the country’s crisis. The couple returned to Italy, where Maria Vittoria, who had been an ephemeral Queen Consort of Spain, died at the young age of 29, on November 8, 1876, in Sanremo.
The Princess’s three sons, Prince Emanuele Filiberto, future Duke of Aosta (1869-1931), Prince Vittorio Emanuele (1870-1946), Count of Turin, and Prince Luigi Amedeo (1873-1933), Duke of the Abruzzi, would have inherited their mothers jewel collection. Princess Hélène of France, the wife of her eldest son, Emanuele Filiberto, is believed to have never worn the tiara. Therefore, historians assume that it must have gone to one of her other sons, either the Count of Turin or the Duke of the Abruzzi, both of whom died without descendants. We can only suppose that King Umberto II of Italy bought the jewel from one of his cousins to prevent this historic piece from leaving the family collection.
According to a drawing in the archives of Maison Musy in Turin, one of the options for the base of the tiara was to set it with pearls. At the time, jewellery was designed to be worn in several ways, and this was arguably a variation or a project that went unchecked. The jeweller, very early on, forged close links with the House of Savoy, receiving his first royal patent in 1765 from Prince Luigi of Savoy (1721-1778), Prince of Carignan, and becoming a goldsmith and the court clockmaker. The relationship continued, and Musy provided many jewels for: Queen Margherita (1851-1926), wife of King Umberto I; Queen Elena (1873- 1952), wife of King Vittorio Emanuele III, and Queen Marie-Josée (1906-2001), wife of King Umberto II. There is an engraving showing Maria Vittoria wearing the adornment but set with emeralds. Whether this is the creator’s fantasy, or the jewel’s versatility, is a mystery that remains unsolved.
Wear the Tiara Online and Live a Royal Experience
Discover the Instagram filter to try on the tiara against the Italian palace, Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi in Turin – formerly a royal hunting lodge for the House of Savoy. Available on @Sothebys and @SothebysJewels.
Christophe Vachaudez is an author, curator and specialist in Royal European Jewel Collections.