26 March 2015

Jewel History: Rare Rubies Seen at Court (1910)

"Rare Rubies Seen at Court"
(originally appeared in the Washington Post, 27 Mar 1910)

LONDON, Mar. 26 -- At the two courts held this spring, rubies were the favorite gems, and some of the finest of these stones in England were to be seen. At the first court, Queen Alexandra wore the Cullinan diamond [1], and at the second she wore on her corsage the famous Agincourt stone, a pigeon's blood ruby which belongs to the crown of England [2; pictured below in the Imperial State Crown].

Another wonderful ruby, which makes rare appearances in public and was visible at the second court, was Lady Carew's [3] uncut stone of 133 carats, which is over an inch long. It was obtained in Persia by Lady Carew's great-uncle [4] some 50 years ago. On its four sides it carries the names and titles of the four great emperors to whom it belonged.

Julia, Lady Carew (not wearing the "ruby") [source]

It has been bored from end to end, and has evidently been worn as a necklace or armlet threaded on a cord. Lady Carew has had it mounted with a diamond for suspension from a neck chain, and it is as a pendant that she wears it. Her jewelers were anxious it should be mounted in a tiara, but that would not show the inscriptions, which form its most remarkable feature. The fact that four Eastern emperors had their names incised upon it proves that it must have been regarded as a treasured heirloom and a powerful talisman [5].

Other wonderful rubies seen at the courts were the Duchess of Norfolk's [6] cluster, the Duchess of Bedford's [7; pictured above] pendants, and the necklaces of Mrs. Harry Higgins, Mrs. Burns, and Mrs. Ogden Mills, three American hostesses in London [8].

1. Read my extensive post on the Cullinan Diamond here.
2. The "Agincourt stone" referenced here is the Black Prince's Ruby, which is actually a spinel. Weighing more than 130 carats, the spinel is today mounted in the Imperial State Crown. Tradition states that Henry V wore the stone at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
3. Julia, Lady Carew (ca. 1864-1922) was born Julia Lethbridge in Ontario. She married Robert Carew, 3rd Baron Carew in 1888.
4. Lady Carew's great-uncle was Charles Alison, a diplomat who served as Queen Victoria's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Shah of Persia (present-day Iran) from 1860 to 1872. Alison's sister, Julia Alison Hill, was Lady Carew's maternal grandmother. Sources say that Lady Carew spent several years in Persia during her great-uncle's tenure there.
5. The "ruby" mentioned here is actually the Carew Spinel (making this article two-for-two on rubies that aren't rubies). After her death, Julia Carew bequeathed the stone to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where it is on display today in the South Asia gallery. The museum's records date the spinel to the Mughal court of the 17th century. Charles Alison is said to have acquired the stone in Tehran around 1870.
6. Gwendolen Constable-Maxwell (1877-1945), wife of the 15th Duke of Norfolk.
7. Mary Tribe (1865-1937), aviator, suffragette, ornithologist, and wife of the 11th Duke of Bedford.
8. These three American hostesses were Marie Louise (Parsons) Higgins, wife of Henry Vincent Higgins, Covent Garden Opera manager and chairman of the Ritz Hotels in London and Paris; Mary Lyman (Morgan) Burns, sister of J.P. Morgan and mother of Viscountess Harcourt; and Ruth (Livingston) Mills, wife of banker and horse breeder Ogden Mills and sister-in-law of Whitelaw Reid, the American ambassador to Britain.