A Danish royal heirloom tiara is being offered for sale soon—and the auction has emphasized just how versatile the nineteenth-century jewel really is.
The sapphire and diamond tiara, which also features an alternate set of turquoise ornaments, has been with members of the extended Danish royal family for at least four generations. The Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen, which is selling the tiara in a December 1st auction, describes the jewel as a “unique and rare Royal sapphire and diamond tiara, set with five cabochon natural sapphires, which can be exchanged with cabochon turquoises, as well as numerous old mine, rose and single-cut diamonds.” The piece is thought to have been made in the late nineteenth century.
The jewel is set with diamonds, pearls, and two sets of removable ornaments (one sapphire, one turquoise). We’re all most familiar with the tiara in its sapphire setting. The lot notes continue the description of the tiara in detail: “Designed with five upright, foliated and scrolling heart-shaped ornaments, decreasing size from the middle to each side, respectively set with cabochon natural sapphires at the center encircled by numerous rose-cut diamonds, the ornaments adorned with old mine, rose and single-cut diamonds, upper parts with stylized floral and buds including the centered three ornaments with pear-shaped old mine-cut diamonds, the two latter upper parts with two old mine-cut diamonds formed as a pear, lower parts with stylized floral, in between and to the back with minor foliated flowers, set with rose-cut diamonds and presumably natural pearls, mounted in 14k gold, rose gold and silver on a curved circlet base.”
The tiara rests on a velvet base, reportedly a later addition that dates to the 1920s. The base also features a row of rhinestones to add additional sparkle.
Here’s an excellent view of the back of the tiara that shows some of the details of the jewel’s construction.
The two sets of alternate ornaments can be affixed to and removed from the tiara via screw mechanisms. Here’s a closer look at the cabochon sapphires. According to the lot notes, the sapphires are natural cabochons from Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
And here is the alternate set of turquoise ornaments. In his 2002 book on Denmark’s royal jewels, Bjarne Steen Jensen mentions the turquoise option in his write-up on the tiara. I don’t think we’ve seen it worn in that setting in photographs, to my knowledge.
Here’s a look at the turquoise setting of the tiara, resting in its case. The auction notes describe the box as “an original fitted leather case from A. Michelsen in Copenhagen, purveyor to the Royal Danish [Court], exterior with floral gold print, bottom with a hidden compartment, lined with red velvet and silk.” But Bruun Rasmussen also suggests that Michelsen is not responsible for the creation of the tiara, writing that the jewel was “presumably” made by “the jewellery manufacturing workshop E. Wolff & Co., London,” arguing instead that Michelsen was simply the Danish firm that sold the tiara (in an arrangement theoretically similar to that of Wolff & Co. as manufacturer and Garrard as seller in the United Kingdom). I don’t know whether E. Wolff & Co. actually had a documented history of supplying tiaras to A. Michelsen. It should be noted that, according to the auction notes, the tiara has no maker’s mark.
Jensen doesn’t mention E. Wolff & Co. (or any other maker) in his discussion of the tiara, and his book is the only source cited in the auction notes. I’ve often drawn comparisons between this jewel and a tiara that was definitely made by Wolff: the King Edward VII Ruby Tiara in Sweden’s royal collection. I’ve written previously that “I’d wager that the two were created at roughly the same time.” In the lengthier write-up by Martin Hans Borg in the catalogue for the auction, it’s revealed that the visual similarities between the two tiaras are indeed the reason that the auction house feels comfortable saying that they were “presumably” made by the same firm. “Regardless of any remaining questions about the origins,” Borg writes, “the resemblance is so striking that it can be assumed that the Princess Thyra Sapphire Tiara was made at E. Wolff & Co., in London.” (Personally, I’d like more concrete evidence before such a firm conclusion could be made.)
Here’s another view of the tiara in its turquoise setting. This version of the tiara, to me, allows the small pearls set in the center of the smaller floral ornaments to stand out more successfully.
And here’s one more view of the turquoise setting, showcasing the 1920s-era velvet base. The loops on the end of the base would have allowed for the attachment of a ribbon or elastic band to secure the tiara to the wearer’s head.
Jensen speculated that the tiara could have had two origins within the Danish royal family: either as part of the “mighty large” collection of Queen Lovisa, or as a gift from King Frederik VIII and Queen Lovisa to their daughter, Princess Thyra (pictured above). Bruun Rasmussen lands on the latter as the correct explanation. Borg further speculates in his catalogue essay that the piece could have been an 18th birthday present given to Princess Thyra by her parents in 1898.
Princess Thyra was pictured wearing the tiara on multiple occasions, including an appearance at the wedding of her niece, Princess Alexandrine-Louise of Denmark, in January 1937. Thyra never married or had children of her own, but she was close to many of her royal nieces and nephews. When she died in November 1945, Thyra bequeathed the tiara to one of those nieces: Princess Caroline-Mathilde, who had married a first cousin (and one of Thyra’s nephews), Prince Knud of Denmark.
At that point, Prince Knud was second-in-line to the throne, after his father, King Christian X, and his elder brother, Crown Prince Frederik. Because Frederik’s marriage had only produced daughters, it was assumed that Knud would perhaps one day succeed his brother as King of Denmark. By leaving the tiara to Caroline-Mathilde, Thyra may have believed that she was bequeathing her sapphire tiara to a future Queen of Denmark.
Ultimately, though, constitutional changes in Denmark allowed Frederik’s eldest daughter, Margrethe, to become heir to the throne. Knud and Caroline-Mathilde were given the titles of Hereditary Prince and Princess of Denmark after the changes were made, but neither they nor their children would ultimately inherit the throne. (Frederik’s daughter has reigned as Queen Margrethe II of Denmark for the last five decades.)
After wearing the tiara for several years, Caroline-Mathilde gave it to her only daughter, Princess Elisabeth. The Bruun Rasmussen auction notes offer us an exact date for the gift: February 3, 1963. To the best of my knowledge, that date doesn’t coincide with a specific milestone (a birthday, etc.), but it was a very busy time for the Danish royal family. Princess Anne-Marie’s engagement to Crown Prince Constantine of Greece had just been announced, and there were plenty of gala occasions on the horizon.
Indeed, Princess Elisabeth wore the tiara often for gala events over the years. The picture above, showing Elisabeth wearing the tiara, was taken at Christiansborg Palace in May 2004 during the wedding celebrations for Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary. (According to Jensen, the sapphire pendant she wears here also belonged to Princess Thyra. The diamond crown brooch is Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna’s Coronation Brooch, which is now part of the Danish royal collection.)
Here’s another image of Princess Elisabeth wearing the tiara, this time for a gala dinner during Queen Margrethe’s Ruby Jubilee celebrations in Copenhagen in January 2012. Like her great-aunt Thyra, Princess Elisabeth did not marry or have children of her own, so when she died in June 2018, Elisabeth reportedly bequeathed the tiara to her nieces, Josephine, Camilla, and Feodora. The trio are the daughters of Elisabeth’s brother, the late Count Christian of Rosenborg. They are presumably the ones offering the tiara for sale at Bruun Rasmussen, though the auction notes state only that, following Elisabeth’s death, the tiara has been owned “by descendants of King Frederik VIII and Queen Lovisa of Denmark until today.”
The tiara, along with both its sapphire and turquoise ornaments, will be auctioned at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen on Thursday, December 1, 2022. The estimate for the jewel is set at 600,000–800,000 DKK (about $84,000-112,000 USD at today’s exchange rates).