The present lot differs markedly from other known portrait diamonds of Nicholas I, all of which are more traditional full bust portraits, with the sitter in uniform and with background. By contrast, the more intimate depiction seen here evokes the ‘lover’s eye’ miniatures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a look deep into the eye and the soul of the sitter. This suggests that the recipient was someone on very intimate terms with the Emperor. Although happily married to his consort, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, born Princess Charlotte of Russia, he had several affairs. Around 1830, he began a relationship with Varvara Nelidova, whose aunt had been a mistress of his father, Paul I. The affair lasted until Nicholas’ death in 1855 and was noted for its discretion; their illegitimate son, Alexei Pashkine, was born in 1831. A ring such as the present lot, set with a miniature which is not an obvious portrait of the Emperor, fits well with this account.
Another ring set with a miniature of Nicholas I below a table diamond and dated 1834 is in the British Royal Collection (RCIN 9038), acquired by Queen Mary.