Among the many magnificent jewels worn by the Princess Royal, few have as exciting a British royal provenance as her sapphire and diamond cluster brooch. Although some of the details about this piece are murky, it seems very likely that it originates with one of the most influential of her ancestors: Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria.
Before we get to Anne’s brooch, we need to set the stage with a little backstory about the piece that it was supposedly modeled on: Prince Albert’s Brooch. The day before their wedding in 1840, Albert offered a gift to his soon-to-be bride. The bauble, a sapphire and diamond brooch set in gold, was received by Victoria with enthusiasm. In her diary, she noted that Albert had given her “a splendid brooch, a large sapphire set round with diamonds, which is really quite beautiful.”
Victoria was so enamored with her new brooch that she wore it on her wedding gown the following day, pairing it with a demi-parure of jewels made out of diamonds that had been given to her by the Sultan of Turkey. Leslie Field describes the brooch as “a large oblong sapphire surrounded by twelve round diamonds”; the Royal Collection adds that the diamonds are “mounted in open-backed collets.” Research done by Theo Toebosch and Erik Schoonhoven argues that the brooch was made in Amsterdam, and acquired with the help of Albert’s father, Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
For the next twenty years, Victoria wore the sapphire brooch regularly. Field points out that she even posed in the brooch in an Émile Lassalle lithograph (pictured above) that was widely and inexpensively distributed to her subjects. But as was the case with so many of Victoria’s jewels, the brooch was rarely worn after Albert’s death in 1861. Even so, Victoria always retained a clear sense of the piece’s significance, and it was one of the items that she designated as an heirloom of the crown in her will.
In Britain, jewels that are earmarked as “heirlooms of the crown” are specifically intended for the use of queens regnant and consort, and indeed, Prince Albert’s brooch has been worn by all four of the women who subsequently held those positions. Queen Alexandra wore the brooch (along with virtually every other jewel in the kingdom) pinned to her gown at her coronation in 1902. You can just see the sapphire brooch at the edge of the Alexandra’s neckline in this photo; the piece is partially obscured by the ropes of pearls. Subsequent British queens—Mary, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II—have used the brooch mostly for daytime occasions.
But the influence of Albert’s wedding gift brooch (pictured above) goes even further than that. It’s said that additional brooches were made as copies of the original, although sources differ on how many, and for whom. One of these copies may be the sapphire and diamond cluster brooch worn today by Princess Anne.
Suzy Menkes mentions the copies twice in her book on British royal jewels. In her chapter on Victoria’s jewelry, Menkes states that “Prince Albert made copies of the brooch for his own daughters, and the Queen has given one of these to the Princess Royal.” Later in the book, she also notes, “The Princess Royal wears one of the copies of Queen Victoria’s brooch that Prince Albert had made for his elder daughters. When one came on the market, the Queen bought it back for her own daughter.”
Leslie Field mentions the copies, too: “Since the ‘Prince Albert’s Brooch‘ is Crown property, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother relinquished it to the Queen after King George VI’s death in 1952, but she often wears an almost identical one, as does Princess Anne.” (The brooch that she mentions the Queen Mum wearing is this one, which has Romanov roots.)
So how many copies were made, and for which of Victoria and Albert’s daughters? It’s possible there were several made—after all, the couple had five daughters: Victoria, Alice, Helena, Louise, and Beatrice. But work published by the Royal Collection suggests that there was actually only one additional brooch made, and that it was made for Victoria herself, not for any of the princesses. According to Charlotte Gere’s 2012 essay on Victoria’s personal jewels, Albert had another sapphire brooch made in 1845 as a present for the his wife’s twenty-sixth birthday. Gere quotes Victoria’s diary entry on the subject, in which she describes the gift as “a beautiful single sapphire brooch, set round in diamonds, much like the beauty he gave at our marriage, only not quite so large.”
Like the first sapphire brooch, the information about the second piece’s creation is unclear. The Royal Collection speculates that the maker could be Hunt & Roskell, Garrard, or Kitching & Abud, based on purchases made at those jewelry houses by the prince around the same time. Alternatively, Theo Toebosch’s work on the acquisition of the original brooch in 1840 includes a mention of a second sapphire brooch, similar to the first but smaller, in the correspondence between Albert’s father and the Dutch jeweler who made the engagement gift. Erik Schoonhoven posits that this smaller brooch could be the second diamond and sapphire cluster brooch, given to Victoria in 1845.
While the piece’s provenance is uncertain, we do know, however, that this second sapphire brooch apparently did eventually find its way into the collection of one of Victoria and Albert’s daughters. It was reportedly inherited by their third daughter, Princess Helena, the wife of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.
None of Prince Christian and Princess Helena’s children had any legitimate offspring of their own. If any one of them inherited the brooch, it’s certainly possible that it was auctioned at some later point. The provenance of Princess Anne’s sapphire brooch has never actually been commented upon by official sources; it’s possible that her brooch is the one that belonged to Helena, or it might ultimately be a completely different piece altogether.
Either way, the diamond and sapphire cluster is one of the most impressive and eye-catching pieces in Princess Anne’s jewelry box. Like the original Albert Brooch, Anne’s cluster features twelve diamond brilliants surrounding a faceted blue sapphire. You’ll sometimes see her wearing it alongside another important royal jewel: the diamond, sapphire, and pearl choker that once belonged to Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia.
Anne generally wears the brooch for evening events, or occasionally higher-profile daytime engagements. She particularly likes to pair the brooch with clothing in shades of blue. Above, in February 1993, she wears the brooch pinned to a dark blue ensemble for the premiere of the film The End of the Golden Weather in London.
She wore the brooch with pearls and a light blue evening gown in March 2000 for the Asian Achievers’ Dinner at The Cafe Royal in London.
And in May 2003, she wore the brooch as she and her daughter, Zara, christened a pair of ships in Southampton.
Here’s one of my favorite photos of the brooch, taken at a party at Windsor Castle for Anne’s charities and patronages, held to celebrate her 50th birthday in 2000. So rare to see both the Queen and Anne wearing the two sapphire clusters in the same place on the same occasion!
Note: This is an updated and expanded version of an earlier article.