01 December 2016

Tiara Thursday: The Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure, Revisited

The Leuchtenberg Sapphire Tiara
The Nobel Prize Award ceremonies are fast approaching. For the past few years, Queen Silvia has been alternating between wearing the Nine Prong Tiara (Queen Sofia's Tiara) and the Leuchtenberg Sapphire Tiara for the gala Stockholm event. If she continues this tidy rotation, this year would be a sapphire year. In advance – in hope? – let’s revisit the tale of that blue diadem.

Queen Josephine in the tiara with pearls
Composed of 11 sapphires framed in diamonds on a diamond base of honeysuckle and leaf motifs, the Leuchtenberg Sapphire Tiara was probably made by the Parisian jeweler Marie-Etienne Nitot. At one point, the sapphires could be swapped out for pearls. Although it was commonly thought that the pearl capability was still in the tiara but the pearls themselves may have left the royal collection, the SVT documentary Kungliga Smycken clarified that the opposite is true: the pearls still exist in other formats such as earrings, but the sapphires are now permanently affixed to the tiara. The construction of the tiara is fascinating. It’s a flexible diadem made in 11 different sections. Many tiaras are attached to a metal base, fixing them in one shape, but the Leuchtenberg Sapphire Tiara does not use such a base - the wearer can adjust the circumference at will, wearing it as a closed crown or in a more open fashion. It opens to store flat in its box, a feature that Queen Silvia has noted makes it very handy to travel with.

Queen Victoria (left), Queen Louise (right)
Kungliga Smycken also uncovered the true origin of the parure. The jewels were previously speculated to have been a wedding gift from Napoléon to Princess Augusta of Bavaria, Duchess of Leuchtenberg, when she married Eugène de Beauharnais (Empress Joséphine's son and Napoléon stepson). The documentary revealed a letter found by historian Claudia Thomé Witte from Augusta to her brother that said that the sapphires were a gift from Empress Joséphine for the birth of Augusta's first son. The son, August, was born in December 1810. Augusta's will states the parure was a wedding gift to her daughter, Josephine, who married Oscar I of Sweden and Norway, thus bringing the sapphire parure to its current home. The parure is now in the family foundation in Sweden, and has been worn mostly by queens and/or those acting as first ladies of the country.

Queen Silvia

A full parure, or matching set, of jewelry accompanies the tiara. Today, that parure is composed of the tiara, earrings, a necklace, a brooch, and two hairpins. It is mostly intact from its Napoleonic origins, which is rare. The changes have been minimal: the original earrings were made into something else when the set was with Queen Victoria, the wife of Gustav V, because she did not wear earrings. Victoria's daughter-in-law, Queen Louise (as Crown Princess), made a new set of earrings by converting two of the original four hairpins.

Crown Princess Victoria in parts of the parure, Queen Silvia and the Leuchtenberg Sapphire necklace and brooch
The parure today is frequently worn by Queen Silvia, and she has explored all sorts of color combinations with the luscious blue sapphires. Princess Birgitta, King Carl Gustaf’s sister, wore it for Carl Gustaf and Silvia's pre-wedding event in 1976; her outing of the sapphires was the last time the tiara was worn by anyone other than Queen Silvia (to date). She did, however, allow Crown Princess Victoria to wear the earrings, brooch, and hairpins for the Nobel Prize ceremony in 2011. 

Is this what you’re hoping to see come December 10th?
(Me: Unless someone wants to wear something we haven't seen in a while...)
This post has been updated since its original publication.