05 January 2016

Royal Jewels of the Day: The Danish Crown Pearls and Rubies

Queen Margrethe arrived at this year's New Year's Court banquet in Denmark in a flurry of fur and fabric, a burst of regal splendor that may have distracted you from one very valuable part of her ensemble: the pearl, ruby, and diamond set from the Danish crown jewels.

In Denmark, there are jewels that are privately owned by members of the royal family, there is a royal property trust (to which the Pearl Poire Tiara, also worn by Queen Margrethe last week, belongs), and there are the crown jewels. The crown jewels belong to the Danish state and are on public display at Rosenborg Castle. Four main sets of jewelry that can still be worn by the reigning queen are included in the crown jewels: an emerald and diamond tiara and accompanying parure, two sets of diamonds, and this set. Queen Margrethe borrows the jewels from Rosenborg for special occasions, but they cannot be worn outside of Denmark.
The set from the crown jewels, including earrings and a stomacher that can be worn in different configurations
The necklace of nineteen large pearls is the oldest piece in the collection, dating back to the 1600s. It belonged to Queen Charlotte Amalie (1650-1714), the wife of Christian V, but the necklace's roots might have a more scandalous flair: in the documentary De Kongelige Juveler*, Queen Margrethe mentions speculation that the pearls may have belonged to Leonora Christina, Countess Ulfeldt (1621-1698), who was imprisoned in the royal dungeon without trial for more than 20 years by Frederik III, her half-brother.
Leonora Christina, wearing a pearl necklace like the one in the crown jewels
Married off to Count Corfitz Ulfeldt in a political move by her father, her husband turned out to be a nefarious character (his Wikipedia entry doesn't hold back: "Commonly known and recognized as the most notorious traitor in Danish history."), and the couple were fugitives on the run after her half-brother took the throne. (Her Wiki entry also brings the intrigue: "She sometimes spent weeks disguised as a man, once fending off arrest from Danish pursuers at gunpoint, and another time the caresses of an infatuated barmaid, the latter proving the more difficult to escape.") Her eventual capture led to her lengthy imprisonment, from which she was released only after the death of her archenemy, Queen Sophie Amalie. The jewels confiscated from her may or may not have included these pearls.
Video: Queen Margrethe wears the pearl necklace with other jewels at the gala banquet for her 40th jubilee in 2012
After centuries worn by successive Danish queens, the pearls have seen their share of history with or without the speculative Leonora Christina connection. They had lost their luster after years without use when Queen Ingrid (1910-2000, wife of Frederik IX and mother to Queen Margrethe) began to wear them. As told by Queen Margrethe in the aforementioned documentary, Ingrid brought them back to life by borrowing them to wear at night next to her skin, and the necklace has been in regular use ever since. The design of the rest of the set, which includes more pearls and adds in diamonds and rubies, was finalized in 1840 by jeweler C.M. Weisshaupt for Queen Caroline Amalie (1796-1881, consort of Christian VIII).
Queen Margrethe wearing the set for her 75th birthday banquet in 2015
Queen Margrethe is very creative with her jewels, and she's worn this parure in many ways. The stomacher can be used as different pieces, a flexibility that allows her to wear it as a brooch in different sizes and with pieces attached to the pearl necklace. She has used the necklace with different brooches, and has combined it with different tiaras at her disposal, usually selecting the Pearl Poire Tiara or the Floral Aigrette Tiara. The necklace especially has become a staple of her important event wardrobe, and appearances have included the wedding of Prince Joachim and Alexandra Manley, the gala performance before the wedding of the Crown Prince couple, jubilee dinners, and her recent 75th birthday banquet. With a history this rich, it's easy to see the appeal.

*Several of you have asked about De Kongelige Juveler (The Royal Jewels), since it is not always available to stream online. SBS in Australia aired the English version of the documentary and they sell a DVD of the program, which you can purchase here. (Obviously, you'll need to make sure the DVD format is compatible.)

Photos: via Getty Images, Kongehuset, DKKS/Rosenborg Slot, DR video, Wikimedia Commons