17 June 2018

Empress Marie Feodorovna's Sapphire Brooch

Queen Elizabeth II opens a new children's park at Pitten Crieff Park in Dunfermline, 1 July 2003 (ANDREW PARSONS/AFP/Getty Images)

One of my favorite things about pearls are their ability to coordinate so seamlessly in jewels featuring colorful gemstone. This lovely, classic brooch from the Queen's collection, Empress Marie Feodorovna's Sapphire Brooch, combines a beautiful sapphire and diamonds with a pearl drop.

Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia, and Crown Princess Thyra of Hanover (with her back to the camera) play cards with their father, King Christian IX of Denmark in Copenhagen, 1905

The brooch still looks current today, but it's more than a century and a half old. In 1866, the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) presented the brooch to Alexandra's sister, Minnie, on her marriage to the future Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Leslie Field describes the jewel as a "cabochon sapphire brooch surrounded by two rows of diamonds with a pearl drop hanging from a collet diamond."

Empress Marie Feodorovna, as she became known, apparently cherished the brooch. She took it with her during her regular trips to her childhood home of Copenhagen. Field notes that Minnie wears the brooch pinned to her bodice in the photograph above, which shows Alexandra, Minnie, and their sister Thyra playing cards with their father, King Christian IX of Denmark, in 1905.

Queen Mary arrives to open the new Albert Dock Hospital in London, 21 October 1938

By the second decade of the twentieth century, Minnie's family was in tatters. Her son, Emperor Nicholas II, was murdered alongside his wife and children, and the Russian monarchy was abolished completely. Minnie managed to flee to Denmark, and this brooch was one of the jewels that remained in her possession after the revolution.

After she died in 1928, Minnie's daughters, Olga and Xenia, were tasked with handling their mother's extensive jewelry collection. They decided to sell numerous pieces at auction. The sale was handled by Hennell and Sons, an English firm. Appropriately, one of the auction's interested buyers was Queen Mary of the United Kingdom, wife of Minnie's nephew, King George V. Mary purchased the sapphire, diamond, and pearl brooch from the estate on October 3, 1930, paying £2,375 for the piece (which exceeded the brooch's auction estimate, set between £1400 and £1900).

Queen Mary arrives to open the new Albert Dock Hospital in London, 21 October 1938

The brooch became a part of Mary's own extensive royal jewelry collection. She liked to wear these types of brooches pinned at her throat, as she did during a visit to the new Albert Dock Hospital in London in October 1938. On that occasion, she emphasized the brooch's pearl drop by pairing it with even more pearl jewels.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the Epsom Derby, 29 May 1963 (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1953, the present Queen inherited all of Queen Mary's jewels, including the brooch. She began wearing the piece in the 1950s, choosing it for important state occasions abroad. But she has also worn the brooch to enjoy one of her very favorite activities: going to the races.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the Epsom Derby, 1964 (Stanley Sherman/Express/Getty Images)

The brooch was the Queen's choice for the Epsom Derby in both 1963 and 1964. The second outing, for which she wore the brooch against a darker jacket, gives us an excellent opportunity to enjoy the details of the brooch's construction.

Queen Elizabeth II visits the Chelsea Flower Show, 22 May 1973 (John Downing/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The brooch has also made multiple visits with the Queen to the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens in London each May.

Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Silver Jubilee at Buckingham Palace, 20 April 1977 (Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

And in 1977, HM chose the brooch for one of the festivities celebrating a very important milestone: her Silver Jubilee, which marked twenty-five years on the throne.

Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Queen Elizabeth II signs the final Tainui Settlement Bill at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand, 2 November 1995 (AFP/Getty Images)

The brooch has made occasional outings in the decades since, often accompanying the Queen on important occasions like royal tours. She wore it in 1995 for a landmark visit to New Zealand, during which she delivered a formal apology in person for the nineteenth-century Invasion of the Waikato.

Queen Elizabeth II inspects the Governor General's Foot Guards in Ottawa during a ten-day tour of Canada, 30 June 1997 (DAVE CHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The brooch also toured Canada with the Queen in 1997, making an appearance during a military review in Ottawa in June. The pairing of the brooch and a light blue coat on this occasion really allowed the cabochon sapphire to gleam.

Queen Elizabeth II attends a reception to recognize the UK technology sector at Buckingham Palace, 9 June 2014 (Steve Parsons-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Today, you'll still see the brooch out and about occasionally, often for events inside the palace, like investitures and audiences. Its most recent appearance came just a few days ago, when the Queen wore it for an investiture at Buckingham Palace on June 1, 2018.