Noble and Royal Jewels That Tell the Greatest Love Stories in History
Noble and Royal Jewels

Noble and Royal Jewels That Tell the Greatest Love Stories in History

As we approach Valentine's Day, the latest in our new series explores the stories behind some of the most captivating royal jewels of the 20th Century.
As we approach Valentine's Day, the latest in our new series explores the stories behind some of the most captivating royal jewels of the 20th Century.

T he lure of noble and royal jewels lies in no small part in the fact that they are highly storied jewels. Indeed, jewelry often plays a part in that tale as old as time: the love story. Love stories are often as complex and multi-layered as the people involved in them, while their jewelry can mark particular events or quite simply a strong bond of affection.

One love story resulted in a legendary sale that was key in establishing Sotheby’s Geneva as the selling location par excellence for noble and royal jewels: the sale of the Jewelry of the Duchess of Windsor. Her relationship with the former British King Edward VIII continues to fascinate through its enigma: Did this man really give up his throne for the woman he loved?

L-R: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor on their wedding day; Catalogue for the Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor, Sotheby's Geneva, 1987.

The undeniable fact remains that both the Duke and Duchess shared a passion for beauty, refined living, fashion and especially a keen eye for sophisticated design and magnificent gem-stones. They marked the milestones in their relationship with some of the most beautiful, fashion-forward and influential jewels of the 20th century. Through their keen sense style, the Duke of and Duchess of Windsor have left an indelible mark on jewelry design

In 1936, when going through a particularly hard period before the abdication the then King presented Mrs. Simpson with a sumptuous ruby and diamond bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels inscribed ‘hold tight’. The signing of their wedding contract was commemorated with a stunning, flexible sapphire and diamond jarretière bracelet equally by Van Cleef & Arpels. The Duchess famously owned a Cartier charm bracelet composed of gem-set Latin crosses, each of which commemorated events such as their wedding, Mrs. Simpson travelling to France before the abdication or a medical procedure.

In 1957, for their twentieth wedding anniversary, Cartier created a ruby, emerald and diamond heart-shaped brooch featuring their entwined initials WE together with the Roman numeral XX. Though the Cartier panthère and tiger jewels, famously commissioned by the Windsors, are not directly related to events in their life, they are a testimony to the Duchess’ great style and have remained a cornerstone of Cartier’s repertoire ever since.

The sale of the Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor in 1987 brought Sotheby’s Geneva to the global limelight. In 2010, a selection of 20 lots from the original sale, including the charm bracelet, the panthère bracelet and heart-shaped brooch, were reunited at Sotheby’s London.

A second relationship resulting in splendid gifts of jewelry, was that of Grand Duke Paul of Russia to his second wife, Olga Valerianovna Karnovitch. He was the youngest son of Tsar Alexander II and had been widowed at the tender age of 30. In his grief he found solace with Olga, the wife of his friend, an officer named von Pistohlkors. She decided to follow her heart and divorce her husband in order to marry the Grand Duke. Of course, society and Tsar Nicolas II, the Grand Duke’s nephew, did not approve of this marriage which was not only highly scandalous, but also of unequal birth.

L-R: Important aquamarine and diamond aigrette tiara, Cartier, 1912. Sold for 566,500 CHF ; Princess Paley attending a fancy dress ball hosted by Madame de Yturbe in 1912, wearing an important Cartier natural pearl and diamond stomacher brooch as a hat ornament and a Cartier diamond tiara worn as corsage ornament.

The couple married in 1902 and settled in Paris where they raised their three children: Vladimir, Irina and Natalia. The Prince-Regent of Bavaria bestowed the title of Countess von Hohenfelsen on the Grand Duke’s morganatic wife. Only after reconciling with the Grand Duke’s family in 1913, were they allowed to return to Russia and was Olga styled Princess Paley by the Tsar.

Grand Duke Paul and Countess von Hohenfelsen were beloved figures of Parisian society and generous patrons of the French capital’s best antiquaires, couturiers and jewellers. At Cartier in particular, they commissioned some of the most significant jewels created during the Belle Époque.

Unfortunately, most of Princess Paley’s jewels were lost in the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, with the notable exception of an aquamarine and diamond parure created by Cartier in 1912. Comprising an aigrette tiara, a stomacher brooch and a necklace, the parure was a magnificent example of the slightly oriental inspired styles of the 1910s prefiguring the Art Deco period. Sotheby’s Geneva had the pleasure of offering these magnificent pieces in May 2009.

These are just two examples of complex, layered relationships where jewelry was an expression of love and where both partners were equally united in their love of jewelry. In both cases, the jewels these couples exchanged, constitute the ever-lasting legacy of their love stories.

To discuss property valuation for upcoming Noble & Royal Jewelry auctions please contact:

Andres White Correal, Deputy Chairman, Jewelry.




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