11 November 2011

Flashback Friday: Going, Going, Gone...Sold Tiaras

It seems that no matter happens to the world's finances, there will always be a market for tiaras, especially those with a whiff of royalty on them. Earlier this year - while the economy sits in what the professionals call "the crapper", mind you - a new auction record was set for the most expensive tiara sale.
This tiara was once in the collection of Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck and features emeralds that possibly/maybe/might have once belonged to Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III. Sotheby's sold it for an astonishing $12.76 million. Take that, recession!

And where there is money to be made, there are people - even royal people - that need it, for varying reasons. Enter: the tiara sale.

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians and her Cartier Bandeau Tiara
Of all the jewels that have left the Belgian collection over the years, the Cartier tiara owned by Queen Elisabeth is almost always called out as one of the biggest losses. Elisabeth left it to her son, King Leopold III, who in turn left it to his second wife, Princess Lilian. Some of the family jewels were sold off while Leopold was still alive, but this one was sold by Lilian after he had passed away. It's easy to make Lilian the villain in all of this - she was something of a controversial figure, after all - and to that end some say she didn't bother informing King Baudouin or Queen Fabiola before the private sale. Of course, these are private matters, and it's hard to know what really happened. On a happier note, it now belongs to its creator, Cartier, and so we actually get to see it at exhibitions and so forth.

Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain and her Chaumet Spike Tiara
The current jewel collection in Spain isn't huge by any means, but they aren't doing too bad - especially when you consider that they've been through a relatively recent period of exile (the monarchy was reinstated in the 1970s). Much like inheritance taxes, exile is notoriously hard on royal jewel collections as non-reigning royals struggle to fund themselves. One of the items Queen Victoria Eugenia surrendered for funds during her exile in Rome is the Chaumet Spike Tiara. It had been a wedding gift from her husband King Alfonso XIII, and was set with turquoise accent stones before Ena had it converted to an all-diamond affair. It was sold again to what has been reported as a jewel collector with "royal origin".

The Cambridge Sapphire Tiara, on (left to right) Queen Mary, Princess Marina, and the current Duchess of Kent
Queen Mary made sure to dig into her massive jewel stash to provide each of her children with at least one grand parure with some familial importance. Some, like the Gloucesters, have managed to hang on to these sets; others, like the Kents, have not done so well. The Kent family's money troubles started with the extravagance and early death of Prince George (Mary's son), leaving his wife Princess Marina to start the family tradition of pawning personal effects to fill in the monetary gaps not covered by the royal income. Marina's children are no different (the current Duke and Duchess of Kent, Princess Alexandra, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent). Together, they've sold what one imagines must be most of the rest of Marina's property. The Duke and Duchess auctioned off the tiara from the grandest parure left from Queen Mary's gifts: the Cambridge Sapphire Tiara, which originally came from Grand Duchess Augusta of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, Queen Mary's aunt. They didn't sell the whole parure; a new tiara was fashioned from pieces of the set they retained, a less successful (if you ask me) button-type affair:
The new Cambridge Sapphire Tiara

Queen Mary's Amethyst Parure
Lest you think only "minor" royals sell tiaras, this amethyst parure is often said to have been sold off by the Queen Mother. Queen Mary won the purple stones at a charity auction and had them placed in this modern set, which she then gave to the future Queen Mother as a gift. Neither the Queen nor her late mother seem to have been large fans of amethyst over the years, so I've always wondered if it wasn't one of those "rather have the cash" type of sales. Of course, it could have been sold off by someone else entirely, and the Queen Mum wasn't necessarily involved. Anyway, the necklace was sold a second time and has been spotted around the neck of Anna Wintour.

Our last piece today is not gone, but I'll include it as a bit of a cautionary tale for those that think selling tiaras to other family members is the perfect solution to keeping gems within the royal collection. 
Queen Silvia and the Edward VII Ruby Tiara
This ruby tiara was a gift from King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to Princess Margaret of Connaught when she married Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden in 1905. It was inherited by her son Sigvard after her untimely death. Sigvard Bernadotte would ultimately find success as an industrial designer, but before he got there he was pretty hard up for cash and sold jewels from his mother to make ends meet. Luckily, he sold this one to his father (though the matching necklace was sold externally, never to be seen again). Or perhaps it wasn't so lucky after all: you see, Sigvard maintained that he had sold it as a loan - when he had the money to repay his father, he would get the tiara back. His father disagreed, and left it to Sigvard's son in his will. That son, Michael, then sold it back to King Carl Gustaf, who still did not agree that the tiara was just loan collateral. Sigvard (who was also bitter over losing his title for marrying a commoner) disagreed with his royal relatives for the rest of his life and he did so loudly enough that Queen Silvia barely wore it due to the undesirable press it received. We see it more often now, after Sigvard died in 2002. Sometimes there really is no easy solution, you see.

Which sold tiara do you most wish was still in a royal collection?

Photos: Geoffrey Munn/Sotheby's/Corbis