10 November 2016

The Russian Pink Topaz Suite

Queen Silvia of Sweden wears the Russian pink topazes at the 2003 Nobel Prize Banquet
[Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
]

The topaz, the versatile birthstone of everyone with a November birthday, comes in varied sizes and colors. Today, let's have a look at one of the most gorgeous topaz sets in any royal collection: the demi-parure of Russian pink topazes that belongs to the Swedish royal family.




The necklace from the Russian Pink Topaz Suite
[Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
]

I'm already anticipating your first question: if the set is called the "Russian" suite, why is it in the royal vaults in Sweden? Even though the set is in Bernadotte hands today, its history begins in early nineteenth-century imperial Russia. In 1804, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, one of the daughters of Tsar Paul I of Russia, married Carl Friedrich, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Maria Pavlovna was a granddaughter of Catherine the Great and the sister of various European rulers and consorts, including Tsar Nicholas I, Queen Catherine of Wurttemberg, and Queen Anna of the Netherlands.


The other three pieces from the suite: the pendant/earrings; the large brooch; and two views of the smaller, oval-shaped brooch
[Photos: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images, SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
]

The marriage of the daughter of an emperor required important presents, and this pink topaz set was among them. Maria Pavlovna's father, Tsar Paul, presented her with the set as a wedding gift. The large pink topazes are surrounded with glittering diamonds, and the set consists of four pieces: a large, impressive necklace, a small round brooch, and a larger, multi-stone brooch with a floral motif. Two of the pendants from the larger brooch can also be detached and worn as earrings. The set is often called a "demi-parure" because it lacks a tiara.


Queen Silvia wears the topazes at the 2008 Nobel Prize Ceremony
[Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
]

Carl Friedrich and Maria Pavlovna had three surviving children: Marie, Augusta, and Karl. Augusta, the middle child, was the one who inherited her mother's pink topazes. She married Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany in 1829. The marriage was not a smashing success, but it did manage to produce two children: Kaiser Friedrich III (who married Princess Vicky, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) and Louise, who wed Grand Duke Friedrich of Baden in 1856.

Augusta's decision to leave the pink topazes to her daughter, Louise, set the gemstones on a direct path to Stockholm. In 1881, Louise's daughter, Princess Victoria of Baden, married Crown Prince Gustaf of Sweden. She became Sweden's queen consort in 1907. Although there are lots of portraits of Victoria wearing items from the Bernadotte collection, I've never seen a photograph of her in the topazes. But there may be a reason for that. Grand Duchess Louise didn't die until 1923, so Victoria didn't inherit the set until she was sixty. By that time, Victoria had largely withdrawn from court life and was spending much of her time in Italy.


Princess Christina wears the pink topaz suite with the Four Button Tiara at the 1970 Nobel Banquet
[Photo: Central Press/Getty Images
]

But although she did not make significant use of her mother's topazes, Victoria did an important thing that secured their future in Sweden: on her death, she bequeathed them to a jewelry foundation, which means they will stay in Swedish hands. Both queens of Sweden who have followed Victoria -- Queen Louise and Queen Silvia -- have made major use of the topazes, often wearing them with the enormous Braganza Tiara or the more delicate Connaught Diamond Tiara. Princess Sibylla, mother of the present Swedish king, also wore the topazes, as did the king's sister, Princess Christina.


Queen Silvia wears the topazes at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria in 2010
[Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
]

Queen Silvia selected the set for one of her first portraits as queen, pairing them with the Braganza Tiara. She's even worn the larger brooch from the set as a headpiece. Silvia has chosen the topazes for a number of important occasions since, including the wedding of her eldest daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, in 2010, more than two centuries after they were made.

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post, with new images.