19 August 2014

Prince Albert's Brooch(es)

Among the magnificent jewels worn by our Magpie of the Month, Princess Anne, few have as exciting a British royal provenance as her sapphire and diamond brooch. Although some of the details about this piece are murky, it seems very likely that it originates with one of the most influential of her ancestors: Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria.

Before we get to Anne's brooch, we need to set the stage with a little backstory about the piece that it was supposedly modeled on. The day before their wedding in 1840, Albert offered a gift to his soon-to-be bride. The bauble, a sapphire and diamond brooch set in gold, was received by Victoria with enthusiasm. In her diary, she noted that Albert had given her "a splendid brooch, a large sapphire set round with diamonds, which is really quite beautiful" [1].

Victoria in her wedding ensemble, painted by Winterhalter in 1847 (source)

Victoria was so enamored with her new brooch that she wore it on her wedding gown the following day, pairing it with a demi-parure of jewels made out of diamonds that had been given to her by the Sultan of Turkey. Leslie Field describes the brooch as "a large oblong sapphire surrounded by twelve round diamonds" [2]; the Royal Collection adds that the diamonds are "mounted in open-backed collets" [3]. The Royal Collection also notes that the maker of the brooch is not known; it could have been made either in England or in Albert's native Germany.

Victoria by Winterhalter (source)

For the next twenty years, Victoria wore the sapphire brooch regularly. Field points out that she even posed in the brooch in a lithograph that was widely and cheaply distributed to her subjects [4]. But as was the case with so many of Victoria's jewels, the brooch was rarely worn after Albert's death in 1861. Even so, Victoria always retained a clear sense of the piece's significance, and it was one of the items that she designated as an heirloom of the crown in her will.


In Britain, jewels that are earmarked as "heirlooms of the crown" are specifically intended for the use of queens regnant and consort, and indeed, Prince Albert's brooch has been worn by all four of the women who subsequently held those positions. Queen Alexandra wore the brooch (along with virtually every other jewel in the kingdom) pinned to her gown at her coronation in 1902. You can just see the sapphire brooch at the edge of the Alexandra's neckline in this photo; the piece is partially obscured by the ropes of pearls.

Subsequent queens -- Mary, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II -- have used the brooch mostly for daytime occasions. Above, Elizabeth II wears the brooch during the 2013 Royal Maundy service.

But the influence of Albert's wedding gift goes even further than that. It's said that additional brooches were made as copies of the original, although sources differ on how many. One of these brooches may be the sapphire and diamond brooch worn today by Princess Anne. Suzy Menkes mentions the copies twice in her book on British royal jewels. In her chapter on Victoria's jewelry, Menkes states that "Prince Albert made copies of the brooch for his own daughters, and the Queen has given one of these to the Princess Royal" [5]. Later in the book, she notes, "The Princess Royal wears one of the copies of Queen Victoria's brooch that Prince Albert had made for his elder daughters. When one came on the market, the Queen bought it back for her own daughter" [6].

So how many copies were made, and for which of Victoria and Albert's daughters? It's possible there were several made, but the Royal Collection suggests that there was actually only one additional brooch made, and that it was made for Victoria herself, not for any of the princesses. According to the RC, Albert had another sapphire brooch made in 1845 as a present for the Queen's twenty-sixth birthday; they quote her diary entry on the subject, in which she describes the gift as "a beautiful single sapphire brooch, set round in diamonds, much like the beauty he gave at our marriage, only not quite so large" [7].

Like the first sapphire brooch, the information about the second piece's creation is unclear. The Royal Collection speculates that the maker could be Hunt and Roskell, Garrards, or Kitching and Abud, based on purchases made at those jewelry houses by the prince around the same time. We do know, however, that this second sapphire brooch did eventually find its way into the collection of one of Victoria and Albert's daughters. It was inherited by their third daughter, Princess Helena, wife of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.

None of Helena's children had any legitimate offspring of their own. If any of them inherited the brooch, it's certainly possible that it was auctioned at some point. The provenance of Princess Anne's sapphire brooch has never actually been commented upon by official sources; it's possible that her brooch is the one that belonged to Helena, or it might ultimately be a completely different piece altogether.

Either way, it's one of the most impressive and eye-catching pieces in her jewelry arsenal, and you'll sometimes see her wearing it alongside another important royal jewel: the diamond, sapphire, and pearl choker that once belonged to Marie Feodorovna of Russia.

1. See the Royal Collection website on the piece, from the 2010 Victoria and Albert exhibition.
2. Leslie Field, The Queen's Jewels, p. 150.
3. See the Royal Collection website.
4. Field, p. 150.
5. Menkes, The Royal Jewels, p. 9.
6. Menkes, p. 156.
7. See the Royal Collection website.