Royal Blood: Tracing Lines of Succession Through Historic Noble Jewels

Royal Blood: Tracing Lines of Succession Through Historic Noble Jewels

In the latest installment of our series on Noble Jewels, we look back at the ruling families and dynasties of Europe, and how the jewels they chose to collect tell the story of family, exile and shifting power.
In the latest installment of our series on Noble Jewels, we look back at the ruling families and dynasties of Europe, and how the jewels they chose to collect tell the story of family, exile and shifting power.

R oyal jewelry collections are built over the course of generations, reflecting the tastes and passions of various family members as well as the fate of their dynasties. The inheritance of these jewels not only bestows great prestige on the recipient, the person who possesses them becomes part of their illustrious history.

Often gem-stones were reset by successive generations according to changing fashions. For most of human history, diamonds were mined in Golconda India, unfortunately these fabled mines became depleted around 1800. In the early 19th century, Brazil succeeded India as the main source of diamonds. Because of the scarcity of diamonds before the mid-19th century, the diamond mines of South-Africa were only discovered around 1865, jewelry almost always made use of re-purposed stones. That is why important jewels from the 18th century or earlier are few and far between. It is exceedingly rare to find a stone with a documented history going back centuries. With the exception of certain royal treasuries and a handful of museum collections, such as the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden, the Munich Schatzkammer or the Moscow Kremlin, no complete ensembles of eighteenth century jewelry are known to survive.

L-R: Marie de’Medici, Queen of France, wearing the Beau Sancy on her crown, portrait by Frans Pourbus II; The Beau Sancy diamond mounted as a pendant, part of the parure worn by all Hohenzollern brides, image taken circa 1913.

In 2012, Sotheby’s had the great honour of presenting the 34.98 carat Beau Sancy Diamond with an attestable history going back to at least the early 17th century. The diamond belonged to several leading European Dynasties and can be traced back through inventories, portraiture and early photographs. The Beau Sancy was undoubtedly mined at Golconda and became part of the collection of the diplomat Nicolas de Harlay, Seigneur de Sancy (1546-1629). In fact, it was only the second most important stone in his collection after the 55.23 carat Sancy Diamond. He proposed to sell both stones to the crowned heads of Europe.

When the flamboyant King James I of England acquired the larger of the two diamonds, it prompted Marie de’Medici, Queen of France, to convince her husband Henri IV to buy the Beau Sancy for her. At her 1610 coronation, she wore it proudly mounted on top of her crown. As Marie de’Medici’s fortunes waned following her downfall as regent, she roamed Europe and exhausted her large fortune while trying to return from exile. In the Netherlands, she sold the Beau Sancy to Frederick Hendrik of Orange, Stadhouder of the Dutch Republic (1584-1647).

The Beau Sancy passed down the House of Orange to William III of Orange and Mary II who jointly ruled England following the Glorious Revolution. As the couple remained childless, their possessions reverted to his family. Frederick I, first King of Prussia, who was a cousin of William III, obtained the Beau Sancy from the heavily disputed succession by waiving his claims to any other assets. Thus the Beau Sancy became the principal jewel in the treasury of the House of Hohenzollern, Kings of Prussia and later Emperors of Germany. In the 19th century, the Beau Sancy was set as the pendant to an impressive rivière necklace part of the parure worn by all Hohenzollern brides on their wedding day. This parure was reportedly mounted for the legendary Queen Luise (1776-1810) whose courage during the Napoleonic Wars inspired the deepest admiration in her countrymen.

In the same breath as the Beau Sancy, one could name the Farnese Blue Diamond. The magnificent pear-shaped 6.16 carats Fancy Dark Grey-Blue diamond was given by the Philippine Islands to Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766) when she married King Philip V of Spain in 1714. Elisabeth’s second son, Philip of Bourbon, Infant of Spain and sovereign Duke of Parma (1720-1765) inherited the Farnese Blue. He furthermore inherited his mother’s claim to the crown of Parma as well as the significant art collection amassed by generations of the Farnese family comprising some of the world’s most important examples of antique Roman sculpture and paintings by Titian, Raphael and Mantegna. In that respect the Farnese Blue symbolised the prestige and importance of the Farnese inheritance. In the 19th century the blue diamond was mounted within a simple diamond border that allowed it to be worn as the central element of a magnificent tiara.

In 2020, Sotheby’s offered a unique emerald and diamond parure which was created for the Vice-Reine of New-Granada, the Spanish colonial territory which comprised the illustrious emerald mines of Colombia. As is typical of eighteenth-century jewelry, the earrings were of girandole design and the necklace was fastened with a velvet ribbon. The parure included a pair of jewels which originally were intended to be sewn onto the bodice, sleeves, skirt, shoes or hairstyle at the wearer’s convenience. One must remember, that in the 18th century and earlier, adornments were more versatile than today.

Perhaps the most well-preserved collection of eighteenth-century jewels ever presented at auction, were nine items from the collection of Marie-Antoinette included as part of the landmark Bourbon-Parma sale, held in 2018. Highlights included the record-breaking Marie-Antoinette pearl, a pair of natural pearl pendent earrings and a yellow diamond and diamond bow-brooch, all still in the same condition as the legendarily stylish Queen of France knew them. The jewels represented the Bourbon-Parma family’s link to the French Royal House through the inheritance of Marie-Antoinette’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse Duchess of Angoulême.

Jewels and gem-stones with a traceable history predating 1800, are not only a great rarity, but speak of a deeply rooted history that saw the pieces being cherished by a successive generations, taking on deeper meaning with the passing of time. These jewels represent the power and prestige of royal and noble houses and as such are part of their ongoing legacy.


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

Andres White Correal, Deputy Chairman, Jewelry.



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