20 February 2021

Mountbatten Royal Jewels at Auction

Patricia Mountbatten with her husband, John Knatchbull, ca. 1946 (Gordon Anthony/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In just about a month, Sotheby's will mount a major auction of items from the estate of the late Patricia Mountbatten, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma. Because she was descended from royalty, there are plenty of bejeweled items included that have royal provenance. Here's a look at some of the pieces that will be sold in London on March 24.

Princess Alice of the United Kingdom and her husband, Grand Duke Louis of Hesse (Royal Collection/Wikimedia Commons)

Before we take a look at the jewels, here's a quick refresher on the Mounbatten family's connections to the British royals. They're descended from Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (1843-1878), the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She married Grand Duke Louis of Hesse and by Rhine, and the couple had seven children: Victoria (who married Prince Louis of Battenberg), Ella (who married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia), Irene, Ernie, Friedrich, Alix (who became Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia), and Marie. A year after his accession as grand duke, the family contracted diphtheria. After nursing her children, and enduring the death of Princess Marie, Alice contracted the disease and died on December 14, 1878, the anniversary of her father's death.

Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (Wikimedia Commons)

Alice's eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. They had four children: Princess Alice, Princess Louise, Prince George, and Prince Louis. Prince Louis was a naval officer, and in 1912, he was appointed First Sea Lord, the highest office in the British navy. With the outbreak of World War I, his allegiances lay firmly with Britain. At the request of King George V, he relinquished his royal title and changed his surname to "Mountbatten" in 1917. The king subsequently granted him the title of Marquess of Milford Haven.

Lord and Lady Mountbatten, 1943 (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

All four of Louis and Victoria's children lived impressive and interesting lives. Princess Alice married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and the youngest of their five children is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Princess Louise became the second wife of King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden. Prince George inherited the Milford Haven marquessate and had a long naval career. And Prince Louis, who became known as Lord Louis Mountbatten, matched his father's impressive naval achievements. He served in both World Wars, becoming Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific theater during WWII, and eventually rising to the rank of First Sea Lord. King George VI made him Earl Mountbatten of Burma in 1947. He was also the last viceroy of India, overseeing the controversial partition of India and Pakistan in the late 1940s.

Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, 1950 (Edward Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

Lord Mountbatten's wife was the glamorous Edwina Ashley, heiress of her wealthy grandfather, Sir Ernest Cassel. They had two children, Lady Patricia, who would marry John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Braborne, and Lady Pamela, who married the designer David Hicks.

Patricia, holding her infant son, with Prince Philip and Queen Louise of Sweden, 1947 (Douglas Miller/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Mountbattens maintained close ties to their extended family members. Above, Patricia poses with Prince Philip and Queen Louise at the christening of her son, Norton Knatchbull, in November 1947. (Philip was one of the godparents of the baby, who is now the 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma.) The family gathering was held two days before an even more important Mountbatten family event: Philip's wedding to the future Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. Lord Mountbatten would later become an important advisor to and confidant of Philip's eldest son, the Prince of Wales.

Patricia with her father, Lord Mountbatten, 1966 (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

After her mother's death in 1960, Patricia could often be seen at her father's side at major social events. (Above, they're attending the wedding of a family cousin, Sacha Phillips, to the Marquess of Hamilton in October 1966.) In August 1979, the family was rocked by tragedy when the IRA targeted their fishing boat. Lord Mountbatten was killed, along with Patricia's son, Nicholas, her mother-in-law, Doreen Brabourne, and a local boy, Paul Maxwell. Patricia and her husband were both seriously injured, as was their youngest son, Timothy.

Patricia Mountbatten, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, 2005 (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The letters patent that created the Mountbatten earldom allowed for daughters to inherit the title, so when her father died, Patricia became the 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma. She died in June 2017 at the age of 93. The lots being auctioned in London are all from her personal collection. Here's some information about the jewelry pieces, including royal mourning jewels and jewels that belonged to Edwina Mountbatten, that are included in the sale.


This pendant was a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria in remembrance of her mother (and his aunt), Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent. The lot notes describe it as an "oval locket set with a section of banded agate, set to the centre with a cushion-shaped diamond within a star border." The inside of the locket features a picture of the late duchess and a lock of her hair. On the back of the locket is an inscription that reads: "Dear Mama / b. Aug 17 1786 March 16 1861 / from Albert in remembrance of March 16 1861 / "Du warst uns Freud und Glück." The last part of the inscription, which is in German, translates as, "You were our joy and happiness." (Auction estimate: £1,000 - 1,500)


This mourning jewel commemorates the death of Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse. The lot notes describe the piece as "designed as a cross, the arms applied with black and white enamel, terminating in trefoil motifs set with banded agate and cushion-shaped diamonds and centring on an onyx heart with Alice beneath a coronet, set with rose-cut diamonds." The back of the cross features "a glazed compartment containing a lock of hair," and is inscribed "Dear Alice / 14th December 1878." The notes explain that it was "possibly" commissioned by Queen Victoria from Robert Phillips following her daughter's death. (Auction estimate: £2,000 - 3,000)


This mourning jewel commemorates the deaths of both Princess Alice and her young daughter, Princess Marie, who both died of diphtheria in 1878. The front of the piece is described by the auction house as "collet-set with a pearl upon a polished section of banded agate," while the back, inscribed "16th Nov & 14th Dec 1878 From Grandmama VR," includes a a lock of hair in a glazed compartment. The lot notes confirm that this was commissioned by Queen Victoria, and they offer a chain of inheritance: it was bequeathed to Alice's son, Grand Duke Ernest Louis, and then to Prince Louis and Princess Peg of Hesse, and "thence by descent." (Auction estimate: £1,000 - 1,500)


This is another mourning jewel for the late Princess Alice. The button is described as "with the initial 'A' set with seed pearls, upon an onyx cabochon, with portrait miniature of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom." The back of the button features the inscription "From Mama VRI 7th April 1879." It shares the same chain of inheritance as the previous lot, belonging to Grand Duke Ernst, Prince Louis and Princess Peg, and "thence by descent." (Auction estimate: £1,000 - 1,500)


This is yet another mourning jewel, but it comes from a different branch of the Battenberg family. Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, was married to Prince Henry of Battenberg (a younger brother of Prince Louis, husband of Princess Victoria of Hesse). Known in the family as "Liko," he died in January 1896 while serving with the army off the coast of Sierra Leone. This brooch was made in his honor. The lot notes describe it as a "memorial brooch of rosette design, centring on the name 'Liko' in white enamel, against a blue basse-taille enamel background, framed by a border of half-pearls." The reverse side of the brooch features a portrait of Prince Henry and the inscription "Jan 20th 1896." Sotheby's notes that the brooch was a gift from Princess Patricia of Connaught to the late Countess Mountbatten (who was her goddaughter). (Auction estimate: £1,500 - 2,000)


This tutti frutti necklace of diamonds and carved emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, belonged to Patricia's mother, Edwina. The lot notes describe it as "designed as an articulated wreath of carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires, accented by collet-set circular-cut diamonds and sapphire beads inset with single-cut diamonds," and note that the piece is unsigned and comes with a fitted Wartski case. The necklace was surely meant to be worn en suite with Edwina's tutti frutti bandeau from Cartier. That tiara is now part of the permanent jewelry collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it was recently loaned to the major Cartier exhibition in Australia. (Auction estimate: £40,000 - 60,000)


These tutti frutti clip earrings are also from Edwina's collection. The lot notes describe them as "of Tutti Frutti inspiration, each of circular bombé form, set with carved sapphires, rubies and emeralds and circular- and rose-cut diamonds." Like the necklace, they are unsigned and come in a Wartski case. (Auction estimate: £6,000 - 8,000)


The auction also includes even more of Edwina's tutti frutti jewels: this pair of clip brooches, described as "of Tutti Frutti inspiration, designed as a cluster of carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires interspersed with single-cut and baguette diamonds." They are also unsigned. It's especially worth clicking through to the Sotheby's website to view this lot; the page includes a family photograph of Edwina posing in her library while wearing the clips. (Auction estimate: £10,000 - 15,000)


The final jewel in the auction is this unusual piece, described as having a "centre set with a cushion-shaped yellow diamond in a closed setting, within a brooch of scrolled design set with cushion-shaped diamonds and suspending three pear-shaped diamond pendants, the reverse of the central diamond with a glazed locket containing woven hair, with the initials JSB." It belonged to Sarah Banks (1744-1818), sister of the naturalist and explorer Sir Joseph Banks. She bequeathed it to her sister-in-law, Dorothea, who subsequently left it to her nephew, Sir Edward Knatchbull; it has since descended through the Knatchbull family. (Auction estimate: £40,000 - 60,000)