10 January 2020

In Memoriam: Infanta Pilar of Spain

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Looking for our weekly royal jewel roundup? We'll have a super-sized fortnightly version here next Friday. In the meantime, we're devoting our time today to remembering the late Infanta Pilar of Spain, Duchess of Badajoz. Pilar was the granddaughter, sister, and aunt of Spanish kings, and she had a jewelry collection that was definitely suited for a princess.

María del Pilar Alfonsa Juana Victoria Luisa Ignacia y Todos los Santos de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, Infanta of Spain, was born in Cannes in 1936 following the royal family's exile after the Spanish Civil War. She was the first of four children born to Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, and Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Her paternal grandparents were King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Princess Ena of Battenberg, who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.

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Infanta Pilar's childhood was spent in exile in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Portugal. In January 1967, she posed with her parents in Estoril as she announced her engagement to a Spaniard, Don Luis Gómez-Acebo y Duque de Estrada. Luis was a first cousin of Margarita Gómez-Acebo, the wife of King Simeon II of Bulgaria. Luis and Pilar first met at the home of the former king.

For her wedding, which took place in May 1967 at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Pilar borrowed a diamond and pearl tiara from her mother, the Countess of Barcelona. The Cartier Diamond Loop Tiara, which originally belonged to Pilar's great-grandmother, Queen Maria Cristina of Spain, has since returned to the main line of the royal family, and is now worn by Queen Letizia. After their wedding, Luis and Pilar were given the titles of Duke and Duchess of Badajoz, by her father, the Count of Barcelona; the titles were subsequently reaffirmed by General Franco and later by her brother, King Juan Carlos.

Pilar's jewelry box was filled with gorgeous pieces of jewelry, especially those set with pearls, diamonds, and sapphires. Note the magnificent pearl choker necklace she wears in this family portrait, taken in the early 1980s. She poses here with her husband, Luis, and their five children, Simoneta, Juan, Bruno, Beltrán, and Fernando. Pilar was widowed in 1991, when Luis died of cancer at the young age of 56.

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Decades later, Pilar wore another dramatic pearl choker necklace for a gala dinner held the night before the wedding of her nephew, the future King Felipe VI, to Letizia Ortiz in May 2004.

Pilar's jewelry box also included a diamond and sapphire tiara inherited from her mother, the Countess of Barcelona. Pilar often paired it with other sapphire jewels from her collection for gala occasions, including a banquet during the Portuguese state visit to Spain in 2006.

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Pilar has loaned the sapphire tiara to other members of her family, including two of her daughters-in-law. Barbara Cano, the wife of Pilar's son Bruno, wore the tiara for their wedding in Madrid in October 2002.

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Another erstwhile daughter-in-law, Laura Ponte, famously wore the tiara upside-down for her wedding to Beltrán Gómez-Acebo in September 2004.

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For the inauguration of King Felipe VI in June 2014, Pilar sparkled in pearl earrings and a pearl necklace with a gorgeous sapphire and diamond pendant.

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She also wore this fantastic rectangular diamond and emerald brooch, with coordinating earrings, for the wedding of her youngest son, Fernando, in November 2004.

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This fantastically intricate diamond and sapphire brooch was Pilar's jewel of choice for the wedding of the present Count and Countess of Paris in Senlis in May 2009. She paired the brooch with coordinating earrings and classic pearls.

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Pilar's pearl collection was impressive. She wore a double stranded pearl necklace and pearl earrings in June 2014 during the abdication and inauguration festivities in Madrid.

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Pilar, pictured with her brother, King Juan Carlos, chose a classic single strand of pearls and pearl earrings for King Felipe and Queen Letizia's royal wedding in Madrid in May 2004.

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Pilar also loved gold jewelry and brooches. She wore both in May 2003 for an open-air papal mass in Madrid, which she attended alongside her sister, Infanta Margarita, and Queen Fabiola of Belgium.

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She wore this delicate feather brooch with golden hoop earrings for the 25th anniversary celebration of Alain Ducasse's King Louis XV restaurant in Monaco in November 2012.

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She also wore this modern suite of gold and silver jewels, including a necklace with an intriguing pendant, for a tennis match in Madrid in May 2009.

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Infanta Pilar passed away on Wednesday in Madrid after a colon cancer diagnosis in 2019. She was surrounded by members of her family, including King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, in the days before her death. Pilar was 83 years old.