27 February 2014

Royal Amethysts

Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway [1]
February is quickly drawing to a close, but I didn't want to let the month fly away without paying tribute to its royal purple birthstone, the amethyst. Here's a roundup of some of my favorite amethysts in royal and noble collections. (Spoiler alert -- the amethysts above are sadly not included!) Add your picks below in the comments!

Victoria, Duchess of Kent [2]
The Kent Amethysts
One of the rare parures in the British royal collection that lacks a tiara, the Kent amethysts originally belonged to Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent. The set includes a necklace, earrings, three brooches, and a pair of hair combs. Queen Victoria inherited the demi-parure from her mother, and she bequeathed the set to the crown on her own death in 1901.

Elizabeth II wears a single brooch from the set most frequently, but she wore the necklace, one of the brooches, and the earrings on a state visit to Portugal in 1984. Leslie Field notes that the Queen "appears to have no special affection for the stone, as she has worn the Kent suite only twice in public" [3]. HM also owns another amethyst necklace, a wedding gift from Queen Alexandra to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, that she has apparently never worn in public at all. (It was worn at the premiere of Skyfall by the Duchess of Cornwall.) And then there's the famous case of Queen Mary's amethysts, which the Queen refused for the royal collection. Too bad for those who want to see her wearing more royal purple -- but at least the amethysts that remain in the Windsor vaults have a centuries-old royal provenance.

The Napoleonic Amethyst Parure
Among the number of impressive parures owned by the Swedish royals is perhaps the best royal amethyst set of all: the Napoleonic amethysts. Given by Empress Jos├ęphine to her daughter-in-law, Augusta of Bavaria, the amethysts came to Sweden with Augusta's daughter, Jos├ęphine. They've remained with the family ever since, and today they are a part of the family's jewel foundation. The set was given a makeover in the 1970s that included transforming a large necklace into a tiara; today, the parure consists of a tiara, a pair of bracelets that can also be worn as a necklace, earrings, and a series of brooches and pins. The lovely, deep-purple stones are worn by all three of the senior Bernadotte ladies -- Silvia, Victoria, and Madeleine -- at various white-tie events.

Queen Alexandra [4]
Queen Alexandra's Amethysts
The current queen of the United Kingdom may not be the biggest fan of amethysts, but her great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, absolutely loved them. The amethyst tiara she wears at right was given to her by her brother-in-law, Tsar Alexander III of Russia, who was married to Alexandra's sister, Dagmar The tsars had access to one of the best sources of high-quality amethysts in the world: the amethyst mines of Siberia. The tiara featured seven of those large, oval-shaped Siberian amethysts set in diamonds. Alexandra later also commissioned an amethyst necklace (which could also be converted into a tiara) to coordinate with the tiara she already owned. Both of the amethyst pieces were inherited by her daughter, Princess Louise, in 1925; they were sold at auction twenty years later. In recent years, Alexandra's amethyst necklace has popped up in public twice: once at the tiara exhibition at the V&A in 2002, and then again in 2007, when it was once again put up for auction [5].

The Tavistock Amethysts
Some of the most gorgeous amethysts of all belong not to a royal family but to a British aristocratic family. The Russells, who hold the Bedford dukedom, have a necklace and tiara set with beautiful wine-colored amethysts [6]. (The set takes its name from one of the dukedom's subsidiary titles, the Tavistock marquessate.) The grape-colored stones were set around 1870 into a tiara of diamond leaves. The entire effect is delightfully Dionysian — which makes perfect sense, as the word “amethyst” roughly translates to “not intoxicated” in the original Greek. The Greeks believed that those who wore the stone were protected against drunkenness. I don't know about that, but I think anyone who gets to wear amethysts as lovely as these is very lucky indeed!

1. Cropped version of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. Cropped version of an image in the public domain; source here.
3. See The Queen's Jewels, p. 20.
4. Cropped version of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
5. See details from the 2007 auction of the necklace here.
6. A large photograph of one of the Bedford duchesses wearing the set is available in Scarisbrick's Ancestral Jewels (see p. 165)