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Thanks to their French imperial heritage, the Bernadottes of Sweden have a jewelry collection that features pieces that date all the way back to the days of Napoleon and Josephine. But today’s jewels, the Vasa Earrings, have an even longer Swedish royal legacy.
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The diamond earrings feature an elaborate briolette drop pendant within a diamond frame. Their design dates to the eighteenth century, to a time when the Swedish monarchy was in a precarious position. The earrings originally belonged to Queen Louise Ulrika of Sweden, wife of King Adolf Frederik (1710-1771). Adolf Fredrik belonged to the House of Holstein-Gottorp, but his son, King Gustaf III, was keen to exploit a family connection to an earlier Swedish royal dynasty, declaring himself a king of the House of Vasa. The earrings, therefore, are usually called the “Vasa Earrings.”
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The original House of Vasa reigned in Sweden from 1523–1654; Gustaf III’s revived version had an even shorter tenure on Sweden’s throne. His son, King Gustaf IV Adolf, was deposed in the Coup of 1809, following a disastrous war with Russia that resulted in the loss of a third of Sweden’s land. Exiled from Sweden, the Holstein-Gottorp/Vasa family took Louise Ulrika’s diamond earrings with them to their new home in Switzerland. Eventually, Sweden would elect a new king: Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, who was crowned King Carl XIV Johan in 1818.
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But by the end of the nineteenth century, the Vasa Earrings would end up back in Swedish royal hands. In 1881, Gustaf IV Adolf’s granddaughter, Queen Carola of Saxony, was the owner of the earrings. Her cousin, Princess Victoria of Baden (pictured above), was engaged to be married to Crown Prince Gustaf of Sweden — a member of the country’s new ruling dynasty, the House of Bernadotte. Like Queen Carola, Princess Victoria was a member of the Holstein-Gottorp/Vasa family: she was a great-granddaughter of Gustaf IV Adolf through his daughter, Sophie. As a wedding present, Carola decided to bestow the Vasa Earrings on Victoria. It was a generous, symbolic gesture: through her marriage, Victoria would unite the Holstein-Gottorp/Vasa and Bernadotte lines, and she would be able to wear her family’s Swedish royal earrings, too.
One problem, though: Victoria didn’t have pierced ears! You’ll note that no portraits of her feature her wearing earrings. But she brought the earrings with her to Sweden anyway, and after her death, they were worn by her daughter-in-law, Queen Louise of Sweden. Louise shared them with other members of the family, too, including Princess Sibylla, the widow of Prince Gustaf Adolf. Above, Sibylla wears the earrings during the 1963 Nobel Prize Banquet.
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In recent years, the earrings have been worn and shared by several of the most senior ladies of the Swedish royal family. Above, Queen Silvia wears the earrings during a visit from the Emperor and Empress of Japan in 2007. She also shared the earrings with Princess Lilian and Princess Christina.
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Crown Princess Victoria, the namesake of Victoria of Baden, has also been pictured wearing her ancestor’s earrings. During a 2008 state visit from Luxembourg, she demonstrated a second setting of the earrings above: the diamond frames can be worn without the central briolette pendants. Princess Madeleine has also worn the diamond frames alone.
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In fact, the earrings have become favorite pieces of Princess Madeleine over the past decade. Above, she wears them at her sister’s pre-wedding gala in June 2010, pairing them with her Modern Fringe Tiara, worn as a necklace. She wore the same two jewels — the tiara and the Vasa Earrings — at her own wedding in Stockholm in June 2013.
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And she repeated the jewel combination for a third time in June 2015 at the wedding of her brother, Prince Carl Philip.