06 March 2014

Royal Aquamarines

Queen Elizabeth II wears her Brazilian aquamarine parure [1]
It's March, which means it's time to celebrate another birthstone gem: the aquamarine! [2] This semi-precious stone, which flirts with both green and blue in its various hues, is a calming stone. It's also supposed to offer protection to those who travel on the sea, which is appropriate given its maritime name. Aquamarines are extremely popular in the world of royal jewels -- let's look at some of the most interesting examples out there, shall we?

Countess of Wessex [3]
The Brazilian Aquamarine Parure
Few reigning monarchs have as many aquamarines in their royal vaults as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, who has been collecting a tidy number of aquamarine pieces since her coronation in 1953. That year, the people of Brazil gifted her with an aquamarine necklace and earrings to celebrate the start of her reign. Some of the largest, best-quality aquamarines in the world are found in Brazil, and they've continued to supplement the Queen's collection over the years. In 1958, they added a bracelet and a brooch, and in 1971, they gave her an aquamarine hair ornament. Elizabeth liked the set so much that she had a tiara commissioned to match, which she has had reset over the years; you can see its current incarnation above. She's also got a smaller aquamarine tiara in a floral design, now worn by her daughter-in-law, the Countess of Wessex (see the photograph at left). And that's only part of Elizabeth's aquamarine collection. Notably, among other pieces,  she also frequently sports a pair of Cartier aquamarine clips, given to her by her parents as an eighteenth birthday present.

The Dutch Aquamarine Parure
The Brits aren't the only ones with a substantial collection of aquamarines. The Dutch royal vaults contain a married parure of aquamarine jewels, given over the course of a decade to Queen Juliana. It includes an art deco tiara, a necklace, a rectangular brooch, and a pair of earrings. Juliana's husband, Prince Bernhard, also gave her a rather enormous diamond and aquamarine pendant; today, that piece is often worn suspended from a diamond brooch by the current Dutch consort, Queen Maxima [4].

Alexandra Feodorovna's Aquamarines
The last tsarina of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, was fond of aquamarines. Her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, presented her with a large Siberian aquamarine and diamond brooch as an engagement present in 1894. The piece was made by FabergĂ©, and today it's in the vaults at Wartski's in London. Alix also owned an aquamarine tiara that's right up there on my list of personal favorites: a diamond and aquamarine kokoshnik that featured a stunning geometric design. The fate of that tiara is unknown; you'll see modern copies of it floating around the internet (hint: if the image of the tiara is in color, not black and white, it's a copy of the original tiara, not the real thing) [5], but the real tiara, like so many Romanov jewels, has apparently vanished.

Ena of Spain [6]
Queen Ena's Aquamarine Tiara
After she married King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Ena of Battenberg put in a tiara request: she wanted a tiara featuring drop pearls. Ansorena made a delicate diamond and pearl tiara for her (you can see the original pearl version of the tiara in the photograph on the right). Later, Ena's daughter, Beatriz, decided to have the piece altered by Bulgari, swapping out the pearls for a set of Brazilian aquamarines. The entire tiara was reworked, transitioning from an Edwardian piece to a sparkler made of interlocking circles, much like the British Vladimir tiara. Today, the aquamarine tiara, which also has a coordinating necklace, stomacher, bracelet, ring, and earrings, belongs to Ena's granddaughters, Sandra and Olimpia. However, the piece has also recently been worn by another royal: Princess Sibilla, Olimpia's daughter, who is the wife of Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg. Despite efforts by the current Spanish king to acquire the aquamarines [7], they remain with Ena's Italian/Luxembourgish descendants.

These, of course, are only a selection of the aquamarine pieces in royal hands today -- which aquamarine jewels top your must-have list?

1. Cropped and retouched version of a photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. Trivia: March also has a second birthstone, the bloodstone, which is also meant to have healing powers. I assume all of you March babies out there are extremely healthy and evenly tempered.
3. Cropped version of a photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
4. As always, much more about these Dutch jewels can be found at John's website.
5. Ursula has a page dedicated to the aquamarines, but again, the color images of the tiara, necklace, and earrings are of reproduction pieces.
6. Cropped version of a photograph in the public domain; source here.
7. See the Luxarazzi blog entry on the aquamarines for details on the attempted acquisition.