Noble Jewels: The Epitome of Style and Self Expression

Noble Jewels: The Epitome of Style and Self Expression

Our series charting the significance of noble jewels continues with a look at the pieces owned by stylish aristocrats and fashionable royals in recent centuries.
Our series charting the significance of noble jewels continues with a look at the pieces owned by stylish aristocrats and fashionable royals in recent centuries.

I mportant jewels are an indicator of power and status, but they are also creative vehicles for self-expression. An awareness of fashion, coupled with an innate sense of style, are characteristics that have served individuals in positions of power and influence well over the centuries, allowing them to reveal aspects of themselves in a time before smartphones and social media. As a result, the noble, royal and aristocratic jewels that appear at auction are time capsules of style. They reveal not only the tastes of the person in question but often the colours, silhouettes and motifs at the cutting edge of design at a specific moment.

Daisy Fellowes in 1936 wearing Cartier’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ necklace. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Emeralds and Diamonds Fashioned by Cartier

Historically, style and status have gone hand in hand. Societal connections and fabulous wealth facilitated the acquisition of notable jewels, often with important gemstones. The legendary collection of Wallace Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986), is a prime example of this fusion of high society and haute couture. Her engagement ring, for example, which was purchased from Cartier in 1936, was set with a 19.77-carat emerald previously belonging to a Mughal emperor. The furore around the auction of the Duchess’ 20th century treasures by Sotheby’s Geneva in 1987 highlighted the immense significance of her collection.


Daisy Fellowes and the 'Tutti Frutti'

The first half of the 20th century was an especially prolific time for jewelry and the intermingling of nobility and emerging international brands. The Duchess of Windsor patronised Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier with genuine loyalty, as did born aristocrat and fashionista Daisy Fellowes (1890-1962). The latter was a prominent socialite, style icon, and a Paris-based editor of Harper’s Bazaar, as well as being the daughter of a duke, the niece of a princess (by marriage), and heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune. Her first husband hailed from a French noble family, placing her firmly in the upper echelons of society. In the 1930s, she fell in love with the Indian style, specifically the Cartier ‘Tutti Frutti’ blend of carved emeralds, sapphires and rubies. That decade, she commissioned the French Maison to produce the Collier Hindou (Hindu necklace), composed using her own sizeable collection of carved gemstones and diamonds, resulting in perhaps the most spectacular Tutti Frutti jewel of all time.


A contemporary of both Wallace Simpson and Daisy Fellowes, Mona Strader, later known as Mona von Bismarck or simply Mona Bismarck (1897-1983), was an American-born socialite who married into European aristocracy through Count Albrecht Eduard "Eddie" von Bismarck-Schönhausen. In 1933, she was hailed as ‘The Best Dressed Woman in the World’ by Parisian haute couturiers, notably Chanel, Lelong and Lanvin, and built an impressive albeit traditional collection of jewels to cement this stylish status. To stay current, she routinely reworked her jewels to reflect the latest trends and so few of her Art Deco pieces remain. One that did survive – a Cartier jadeite, onyx, ruby and diamond pendant-brooch (circa 1925) – was sold by Sotheby’s in May 2017.

From the Pages of Vogue to European High Society

Two decades later, in the 1950s, another style icon was stepping into her aristocratic status. New Zealand-born British model, Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter (1932-) married Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002) on the shores of Lake Lugano in 1956. He presented her with many spectacular jewels during their nine-year marriage, including an important unheated 92.01-carat cushion-cut pink Ceylon sapphire.

Baroness Fiona Thyssen (former fashion model Fiona Campbell-Walter) poses in a front of a mirror at a charity fashion show at Alexander's newly-opened department store in Manhattan, New York, 1965. Photo by Al Levine/Keystone Features/Getty Images. Al Levine/Getty Images

As a well-connected fashion icon, the newly named Baroness Fiona Thyssen-Bornemisza approached her friend, the legendary Tiffany & Co. designer Jean Schlumberger, to set the sapphire into a brooch. The piece, which was sold by Sotheby’s in 2022, surrounds the pink corundum with twisting golden branches tipped with pear-shaped sapphire and diamond leaves.

Tiaras as a Fashion Statement

The 1950s and 60s also bore witness to another rising British-Irish fashion model, Anne Gunning Parker (1929-1990), who featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1953 and married British diplomat Sir Harold Anthony Nutting, third Baronet Tiverton (1920-1999) in 1961. One of her most significant jewels – an elegant diamond tiara by Chaumet (circa 1960) with channel-set baguette and old cushion-shaped diamonds – will be sold at the upcoming Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels auction in May 2024.

Anne Gunning by Henry Clarke, courtesy of Condé Nast.

For these 20th century style icons, the worlds of high jewelry, celebrity, and nobility were inescapably intertwined. Fiona Thyssen-Bornemisza attended the same finishing school and modelling agency as Jean Shrimpton and was loved by fashion photographer Cecil Beaton, who also counted Mona Bismarck as one of his lifelong friends and photographic subjects. Beaton’s contemporary, photographer Norman Parkinson, collaborated extensively with Lady Anne Nutting, notably for on-location Vogue fashion shoots in India – an artistically important place for Daisy Fellowes. The latter was said to have inspired Coco Chanel, who famously forged a friendship with Fulco di Verdura, the last Duke of Verdura and founder of the eponymous brand, who channelled his Italian nobility into iconic creations, notably the Maltese Cross Cuff.

Empress Nam Phuong of Vietnam (1913-1963).

However, as past and present Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels auctions prove, the links between nobility and style are not limited to Europeans. A pair of fancy-cut diamond pendant ear clips by René Boivin (circa 1951) hail from the collection of Empress Nam Phu’o’ng of Vietnam (1914-1963), who was educated in France like her husband, Emperor Bao Dai (1913-1997). Together, they sought to combine elements of traditional dress with French couture and high jewelry, especially René Boivin and Boucheron. Another significant example can be traced to Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajamata of Jaipur (1919-2009), whose personal jewels included an exceptional natural pearl and diamond necklace (circa 1920).

From Courtesan to Countess

Born a Princess of Cooch Behar and granddaughter of the Maharajah of Baroda, Gayatri Devi married Man Singh II of Jaipur in 1940 and would continue a life of public service and politics long after Indian Independence in 1947. It’s also true to say that stylish nobles enjoyed the allure of jewelry long before the turn of the 20th century. Countess Eliza Krasinska, née Branicka (1820-1876), an aristocrat of Polish descent, once owned a rare Old Mine-cut fancy intense yellowish green diamond of 2.47 carats, which is now set at the centre of a ring by JAR. She received the diamond from her husband, Count Zygmunt Krasinski (1812-1859), who presented it to her as an engagement ring alongside two parures.

Another piece with historical significance – a 30.70-carat octagonal-shaped emerald and old cushion-shaped diamond brooch dated to the late 19th century – can be traced to the collection of formidable Parisian courtesan, Esther Lachmann, later known as the Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck (1819-1884).

In 1850, she married the Portuguese marquis of Païva-Araujo, lending her the nickname ‘La Païva', and later wed Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (1830-1916) in the early 1870s. By reputation, La Païva had a passion for rare gemstones and became one of Frédéric Boucheron’s most loyal clients, who likely produced this notable emerald brooch.

Individuals with lineages of distinction often have jewels of note, whether they are inherited, gifted or purchased. As is the case with the remarkable women mentioned here, these pieces tell a story of personal style, up-to-the-minute fashion, and the coveted trends of a moment in time. Today, it is their provenance that inspires a new generation of collectors.

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

Andres White Correal, Deputy Chairman, Jewelry.




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