11 August 2014

The Marie Feodorovna Pearl and Sapphire Choker

Of all of Princess Anne's jewelry, the piece with maybe the best historical provenance is today's jewel: the diamond and pearl choker with a geometric sapphire and diamond clasp. It may be worn today by a British princess, but it has Romanov roots.

Marie Feodorovna, painted in 1874 by Makovsky (source)

The choker is one of the pieces that Queen Mary purchased from the estate of the late Empress Marie Feodorovna. Minnie was the daughter, sister, wife, and mother of monarchs; she was a Danish princess who was married to Tsar Alexander III of Russia. As you can imagine, her jewel collection was extensive, and it included a number of sapphire pieces, among them the parure depicted in the 1874 portrait above. I've seen speculation that the sapphire in the choker's clasp came from this set, but I'm not sure that such a suggestion could ever really be fully explored, given the fate of the majority of the Romanov jewels.

Indeed, although Minnie made it out of Russia after the revolution, most of her jewels were left behind. She retained some pieces, and after her death, a collection of the empress's jewels was sold at Hennels. This choker necklace is one of the pieces that was purchased at that sale by Queen Mary. On the inventory of the sale, which is reproduced on Ursula's jewel website, the choker is number seven on the list, described as "pearl & diamond choker w/sapphire & diamond clasp." According to the inventory, Mary bought the necklace for 6,000 pounds.

Queen Mary was photographed in the choker, which she sometimes wore with her honeysuckle tiara or with another jewel that is often attributed (though with much less certainty) to the Romanovs, the diamond and sapphire bandeau. The choker is grand enough to stand up against the piles of jewelry that Mary wore; its four rows of pearls include interspersed diamond sections, and the diamond and sapphire clasp is a substantial piece of its own. And even better, the necklace can also be taken apart and worn as a pair of bracelets, while the clasp can be worn as a separate brooch.

When Queen Mary died in 1953, her granddaughter, Elizabeth II, inherited the majority of her jewels. The Russian choker was among that cache, and in the early years of her reign, she wore the piece a few times. In recent years, however, the primary wearer of the choker has been Elizabeth's only daughter, the Princess Royal. Anne sometimes pairs the piece with another sapphire jewel -- her sapphire and diamond brooch, which Suzy Menkes argues is probably one of the brooches made for the daughters of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The two pieces can both be seen on Anne in the photograph above.

Anne has other pearl chokers, including a larger one that she often wears at daytime events like Royal Ascot and a smaller, more delicate version. She seems to reserve the Marie Feodorovna choker mainly for significant events. (Here, you can see her wearing the choker with her paternal grandmother's meander tiara.) More recently, she's worn it at the gala held the night before Prince William's wedding in 2011 (see the photo above).

It's not known whether Anne now owns this choker, or whether it's a long-term loan from the Queen. I tend to believe this may have been a gift. Anne wears chokers far more than her mother; she certainly gets more use out of this piece than Elizabeth ever did. And although the piece has significant history in terms of the larger world of royalty, it's not a British heirloom piece, exactly.

If the Queen is to choose a piece from her own personal collection to give to her daughter -- and therefore take a piece of jewelry out of the main line of royal inheritance -- it makes sense that she'd select an item with a relatively short history in the Windsor vaults. It's beautiful, and it has major roots, but it's not an heirloom of the crown. I suppose only time will tell!