01 July 2018

The Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch

Queen Elizabeth II wears the Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch at the Vatican in 2014 (Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)

A hundred years ago this month, the last Emperor and Empress of Russia lost their lives in Yekaterinburg. Appropriately, we're devoting the month of July to Romanov jewels, both pieces that still exist and those that have vanished into history. Today, we're starting with one of my very favorite British royal brooches: the Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch.



The Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch (Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)

The exquisite brooch now belongs to the British royal family, but it was once part of the collection of a very influential Romanov empress: Marie Feodorovna, consort of Tsar Alexander III and mother of Tsar Nicholas II. She was also a sister of Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

In 1934, Alexandra's daughter-in-law, Queen Mary, reportedly bought the brooch from Marie Feodorovna's daughters. The piece resembles another brooch in the British vaults -- the diamond and sapphire cluster brooch given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert -- but this one can easily be distinguished by the intricate gold filigree set between its vivid sapphire and its cluster of diamonds.


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wears the brooch for a garden party at Buckingham Palace, 1958 (Victor Blackman/Express/Getty Images)

The brooch was reportedly among the numerous jewels that Queen Elizabeth II inherited from her grandmother, Queen Mary, in 1953, but for years, it was worn by someone else: her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wears the brooch at the Epsom Derby, 4 June 1958 (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The brooch was among her favorite pieces, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, popping up numerous times. Although the brooch is quite elaborate, the Queen Mum wore it often for daytime occasions, like the Epsom Derby or palace garden parties.


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wears the brooch at Clarence House for her first visit with Princess Margaret's infant son, Viscount Linley, 1 December 1961 (AFP/Getty Images)

She chose the brooch in 1961 for a very important family event: her first visit with her newest grandson, Princess Margaret's first child, Viscount Linley (now the 2nd Earl of Snowdon). Perhaps the bright blue hue of the sapphire was the reason she chose it to meet a grandson?


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wears the brooch at Clarence House for her first visit with Princess Margaret's infant son, Viscount Linley, 1 December 1961 (AFP/Getty Images)

Here's a colorized version of the 1961 photograph, where you can see that she also wore a lovely diamond and sapphire bracelet on her left arm.


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wears the brooch to attend a performance of Shaw's You Never Can Tell at the Theatre Royal in Windsor, 23 February 1962 (AFP/Getty Images)

The brooch was also suitable for less formal evening occasions, like this theater outing in Windsor in 1962. Here, she paired the brooch with the diamond and sapphire fringe earrings most recently worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. (More on those here!)


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wears the brooch to greet well-wishers outside Clarence House on her 78th birthday, 4 August 1978 (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

She also selected it for important personal milestones, wearing it at Clarence House on her birthday in 1978.


Queen Elizabeth II wears the brooch to visit Pope Francis at the Vatican, 3 April 2014 (STEFANO RELLANDINI/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Queen Mother died in 2002, the brooch was returned to Queen Elizabeth II's collection. But she waited more than a decade to wear it, debuting it during a visit to the Vatican in April 2014.


Queen Elizabeth II wears the brooch during the Chinese state banquet at Buckingham Palace, 20 October 2015 (Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

She also wore it for the Chinese state banquet at Buckingham Palace in October 2015, using it to secure the sash of the Order of the Garter. (Note the gold filigree standing out above the brooch's diamonds.) On this occasion, she paired the brooch with the Belgian Sapphire Tiara and jewels from the King George VI Sapphire Suite.