21 June 2016

On the Block: Grand Duchess Vladimir's Star Sapphire Brooch

Image via Christie's

Christie's New York is currently in the midst of an enormous sale from a famous jewelry collector: the late Joan Rivers. For most, her name probably evokes thoughts that are more about comedy than about fine jewelry, but Joan was a major collector of all sorts of decorative objects. Her estate boasts an important group of jewels and bejeweled objects by Faberge -- including today's brooch, which has a Russian imperial provenance.

Brooch detail (Image via Christie's)

Here's how the auction notes describe the brooch (which is Lot #43 in Wednesday's sale): "A silver topped gold-mounted star sapphire and diamond pendant brooch by Fabergé, with the workmaster's mark of August Holmström, St. Petersburg, 1899-1903." The notes further explain that the brooch is "set with a cabochon star sapphire within an old mine-cut diamond border, surmounted by a diamond-set ribbon crest, the reverse with suspension loop, detachable pin guard and two alternate backings, marked on reverse of mount and pin guard; in a fitted Wartski case." The brooch is expected to fetch between $70,000 – $90,000.

Grand Duchess Vladimir (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The brooch was owned by one of the grandest ladies of the Romanov dynasty: Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich. Vladimir was the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II, and the Vladimirs had a sort of "rival court" of their own. You'll probably be most familiar with one of her grandest tiaras: the Vladimir Tiara, worn today by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. (She's wearing that tiara in the postcard portrait above.)

Also made by August Holmström: this diamond tiara, which once belonged to Queen Marie Jose of Italy (Photo: MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)

As an aside: if you're a Fabergé fan, the name "Holmström" surely rings a few bells. August Holmström was a Finnish-born craftsman who was head jeweler for the firm. Even if you didn't recognize his name, I'll bet you are familiar with one of his major creations: the gorgeous diamond tiara he made for the Leuchtenbergs using diamonds that had been given to Empress Josephine of France by Tsar Alexander I of Russia. When August Holmström died in 1903, he was succeeded by his son, Albert Holmström. He also made a recognizable tiara: the myrtle wreath tiara owned by the Grosvenor family.