Lot 504
  • 504

'The Queen Maria-José ruby ring' An exceptional ruby and diamond ring, late 19th century

5,860,000 - 8,780,000 CHF
bidding is closed


  • Gold, ruby, diamonds
Set with an oval ruby stated to weigh 8.48 carats, framed with cushion-shaped diamonds, size 52.


This ring first appeared at auction on 22 February 1997 at Sotheby’s St Moritz.

Christie's Geneva, 18 May 1999.

Gift from Tammaro de Marinis (1878-1969), scholar and bibliophile, to Queen Maria-José of Italy.

Maria-José of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess of Belgium, born in Ostende (Belgium) on 4 August 1906, deceased in Geneva on 27 January 2001, daughter of Albert I, King of the Belgians, and Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria.

On the 8th of January 1930, in Rome, Princess Maria-José married Umberto of Savoy, Prince of Piedmont, son of Vittorio Emanuele III, King of Italy, Emperor of Ethiopia, King of Albania, and Princess Elena of Montenegro. Prince Umberto became King of Italy under the name of Umberto II on 9 May 1946. His short reign ended with the proclamation of the Italian Republic on 12 June 1946. Known as “The Queen of May” for her short reign throughout the month of May, Maria-José was the last Queen of Italy. 


“Brilliant Europe. Jewels from European Courts”, ING Cultural Centre, Brussels, 24 October 2007 – 17 February 2008.


Cf.: Diana Scarisbrick (dir.), Brilliant Europe. Jewels from European Courts, exh. cat., Brussels, 2007.

Cf.: Diana Scarisbrick, Royal Jewels, from Charlemagne to the Romanovs, New York, 2008, pg. 274 for a picture and a description of the ring.

Cf.: Vincent Meylan, Queens’ Jewels, New York, 2002, pgs. 116-133.

Cf.: Maria Gabriella di Savoia and Stefano Papi, Gioielli di Casa Savoia, Milan, 2002.

Cf.: GIA monograph.


Accompanied by SSEF report no. 60894, dated 29 September 2011, Gübelin report no. 11090047, dated 8 September 2011, and GIA report no. 7196800988, dated 10 April 2015, each stating that the oval ruby stated to weigh 8.48 carats, is of Burmese origin, with no indications of heating, 'pigeon blood' colour according to the SSEF certificate; the SSEF and the Gübelin reports with appendix letters, together with a monograph from the GIA. Ruby red of medium strong saturation, 'pigeon blood' colour according to the SSEF report and the GIA monograph, measuring approximately 16.35 x 11.95 x 5.15mm, with typical inclusions, a few surface reaching on the pavillion and cavities; for further details on the central stone, please refer to the gemmological reports. Diamonds bright and lively estimated to weigh a total of approximately 1.70 - 2.70 carats, as gauged in the mounting. Signs of normal wear to the metal consistent with age. In very good condition. Gross weight approximately 9 grams.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Please note that colour, clarity and weight of gemstones are statements of opinion only and not statements of fact by Sotheby's. We do not guarantee, and are not responsible for any certificate from a gemological laboratory that may accompany the property. We do not guarantee that watches are in working order. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue, in particular to the Notice regarding the treatment and condition of gemstones and to the Notice regarding import of Burmese jadeite and rubies into the US.

Catalogue Note

The Italian Royal Jewels: an outstanding collection


Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878), son of Charles Albert, Prince of Carignano, King of Sardinia-Piedmont, and Maria Theresa of Austria, married in 1842 the Archduchess Adelaide of Austria (1822-1855), daughter of the Archduke Rainer Joseph of Austria and Elisabeth of Savoy. Victor Emmanuel II became King of Sardinia after his father’s death in 1849 until 17 March 1861 when he assumed the title of King of Italy and became the first King of a united Italy since the 6th century; he reigned until his death in 1878, and was succeeded by his son Umberto.


As his father had been a widower throughout his reign, King Umberto’s wife, Margherita became the first Queen of Italy. Margherita of Savoy was born on 20 November 1851 at Palazzo Chiablese in Turin, the daughter of Ferdinand of Savoy, Duke of Genoa, and of Elizabeth of Saxony. Margherita and Umberto were married on 21 April 1868 in the Renaissance Cathedral of San Giovanni in Turin. According to the tradition and the habit, she received a beautiful “corbeille de mariage” which included jewellery. Under her reign the Court enjoyed a period of splendour. She was admired not only for her style and bearing, but also for her patronage of the arts and her dedication to support of charities.


Intelligent, refined and well-read, Margherita’s winning personality made her instantly popular in Italy. Her elegance and grace had charmed Europe. She was affectionately called ‘The Queen of Pearls’, in recognition of her love of jewellery, particularly pearls which she wore on most occasions, often several rows together. Her husband was known to have given her a string of pearls every year and by 1900, the year of Umberto I’s death, Margherita had accumulated thirty-three pearl necklaces.


Passionate about jewels, she was also determined to build and maintain a treasury of Italian royal jewels for posterity and to designate the special pieces that should comprise this collection and be bequeathed to successive generations of Italian royalty.


Her grandson, Umberto II was passionate about art and history and shared her great interest in jewellery. “He loved his own family collection of royal jewels not only for their historical importance but also for their beauty. In accordance with his artistic nature, however, he could not resist altering some of the pieces. They were unmounted and re-set many times, but always by the best jewellers in Italy. In 1968 he had a beautiful pearl and diamond tiara designed by the Roman jeweller Petochi on the basis of his own ideas, and set with stones removed from other royal jewels” (Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes, Famous Jewelry Collectors). He also commissioned jewels from Petochi, using stones from pieces in his grandmother’s collection, a two-row diamond rivière, and a collection of diamonds and sapphires mounted into earrings, a necklace and a ring. From Chiappe, he ordered a chain composed of diamond knots, the symbol of the House of Savoy.


His wife, née Princess Marie-José of Belgium, was known and admired for her elegance and beauty. The daughter of Albert I, King of the Belgians, and Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, she grew up in a royal environment and was accustomed to wearing beautiful jewels. On her coming of age, she was given a pearl and diamond bandeau and later acquired a magnificent Russian tiara with pear-shaped and briolette diamonds from the last Duke of Leuchtenberg, descendant of Empress Joséphine. On the eve of their marriage, Prince Umberto gave her the tall pearl and diamond tiara created by Musy on the orders of Queen Margherita in 1904. This tiara, designed to be worn in eight different ways, had become as inseparable from her image as her pearls. Maria-José wore this tiara like a crown over her lace veil at the wedding. Among her wedding gifts was a turquoise and diamond parure she worn at her pre-wedding reception, and a diamond bow.


A lover of the arts and passionate about jewellery like her husband, the beautiful, elegant and glamorous Maria-José wore jewels with great style as is substantiated by portraits and abundant photographic evidence. When the monarchy was abolished and the Italian Republic was proclaimed on 2 June 1946, King Umberto II and Queen Maria-José went into exile, taking with them only their personal jewels.



The superb ruby and diamond ring offered here was part of the personal collection of the last Queen of Italy, Maria-José, a gift from Italian bibliophile Tammaro de Marinis (1878-1969) on the occasion of her wedding to Crown Prince Umberto in 1930.


“There have only been three Queens of the united Italy and that this ring belonged to the last gives it historic interest, in addition to its intrinsic value. When the young, clever and attractive Belgian Princess Marie-José married the Prince of Piedmont, future Umberto II in 1930, she received jewellery inherited from the fabulous private collection of his grandmother, Queen Margherita (1851-1926). At the same time, as was customary, then and afterwards, her family, friends, and patriotic Italian supporters of the monarchy gave her more jewels, to ensure she would always stand out at her public appearances. The ruby ring, a gift from the scholar and bibliophile, Tammaro de Marinis (1878-1969) marks their long friendship, based on a shared passion for art and history.

Acknowledged as the king of libraries, Tammaro lived in the sumptuous Villa Montalto near Florence. There, he entertained Marie-José, so she could meet the philosophers Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile, along with the leading artists, poets, and politicians of the interwar period. A man of great taste, Tammaro chose the perfect ring for this brilliant Princess, married to the heir to the throne of Italy, for the royal character of the exquisite “pigeon blood” ruby within its diamond frame blended harmoniously with Queen Margherita’s bequests. Princess Marie Gabriella of Savoy has kindly confirmed that this ring was a gift from Tammaro de Marinis to her mother, Queen Marie-José, who was greatly attached to it” (Excerpts from the GIA monograph).


This ring, set with an outstanding ruby, “the king of gemstones”, was the perfect jewel for a Queen. We are delighted to offer such a beautiful piece of jewellery with an amazing and historic provenance that links this ring to the history of Italy and European royalty.


An exceptional ruby

Excerpts from the GIA monograph.


Long honoured in history as a gemstone of sovereigns, warlords, and lovers, ruby was worn by noble rulers and formed an important part of their regalia. Ancient Indian texts refer to ruby as ratnaraj, meaning “king of gemstones”.

Ruby deposits are found across the globe, in places such Afghanistan, Cambodia, East Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam. All deposits have yielded fine-quality gem material, but certain locations have gained reputations as consistent producers of exceptional stones: Burmese rubies are considered preeminent. Rubies were likely first recovered in the Mogok area of Burma as far back as the Stone Age. However, local legends claim that Mogok was founded in 579 AD, and various records indicate that rubies were discovered at that time.

The ruby contained in the Maria José di Savoia Ring hails from this magical and wondrous part of the world. The intensity of its colour and its strong natural red fluorescence, features common to rubies from Burma, allow this gem to offer an intense viewing sensation.


Various inclusions were noted in the Maria José di Savoia Ruby, however the most notable were iridescent rutile needles. All of the features observed were typical of ruby originating from Mogok in Burma.


Any Burmese ruby in excess of 5 carats is considered very rare even today; thus, in the nineteenth century, one such as this – being over 8 ct and such a fine colour – would have been held as truly exceptional.