Not one, not two, not three, but four royal tiaras are headed to the auction block in a few weeks! Let’s have a look today at the glittering diadems being offered by Sotheby’s in Geneva this November.
Sotheby’s is running a special sale, “Vienna 1900: An Imperial and Royal Collection,” in Geneva next month that includes jewels worn by numerous royals with links to the Habsburgs. It’s a single-owner sale, with all of the pieces coming from the collection of the House of Württemberg, which formerly reigned in southern Germany but had numerous links to the Austrian imperial family. Sotheby’s notes that the auction selection “fascinatingly depicts the grandeur of Viennese court life, the most brilliant court at the turn of the century” and “provides an extraordinary journey into the private lives and mementos of Central Europe’s most influential ruling families, testifying to their alliances, tastes and style.”
Among the jewels are several pieces made by the Austrian court jeweller, Köchert. The first is this dazzling jewel, which Sotheby’s is calling an “historical and important natural pearl and diamond tiara.” The catalogue describes the tiara as having an “openwork, garland design, set with drop- to slightly baroque drop-shaped natural pearls” which is also “set throughout with cushion-shaped and circular-cut diamonds.” It’s expected to sell for 270,000-450,000 Swiss francs (about $297,000-$495,000 USD).
The tiara comes with one of our favorite jewelry accessories: a tiny screwdriver that allows the owner to dismantle the jewels and wear different sections in various ways. The lot comes with fittings so that the tiara’s central element can be worn either as a brooch or comb, as well as hairpin fittings for some of the other smaller detachable sections.
The remarkable jewel comes from the collection of Princess Maria Immaculata, the fifth child of the penultimate monarch of the Two Sicilies, King Ferdinand II. When her family was knocked off their throne in 1860, they settled in Rome, where Pope Pius IX put them up in the Quirinal Palace (now one of Italy’s presidential residences). Maria Immaculata married a cousin, Archduke Karl Salvator of Austria, there in 1861. The marriage was a fruitful one, producing ten children. Their youngest surviving daughter, also named Maria Immaculata, married Duke Robert of Württemberg (another cousin) in Vienna in 1900. She inherited her mother’s diamond and pearl tiara. Robert and Maria Immaculata had no children of their own, but they passed the jewel down to the extended Württemberg family.
Duke Robert of Württemberg was the son of Duke Philipp of Württemberg and Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria. His sister, Duchess Maria Isabella of Württemberg, owned another jewel included in the November sale: this lovely diamond and ruby tiara. Sotheby’s describes the jewel as “impressive,” dating it to 1896, two years after Maria Isabella married Prince Johann Georg of Saxony. The auction house estimates that it will sell for 180,000-350,000 Swiss francs (or about $198,000-$385,000 USD).
The catalogue explains that the tiara features a “bow and ribbon design, set with oval and cushion-shaped rubies, set throughout with cushion-shaped and circular-cut diamonds.” Like the previous example, it was also made by Köchert, and it also comes with a little screwdriver to allow sections to be detached and worn in alternate settings. The four bows and the arches are all detachable; above, you’ll see three of the bows in their hairpin settings. A second circlet frame for the tiara is also included.
Like her brother, Duke Robert, Duchess Maria Isabella did not have any children. She was only 32 when she passed away in 1904, and she left the tiara to a nephew, Philipp Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg. (After her death, Prince Johann Georg married a second wife, whose name was…Princess Maria Immaculata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Not the same one, though! This particular Princess Maria Immaculata was a niece of the Princess Maria Immaculata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies who owned the previous tiara. Keeping track of these royal genealogies really could be a part-time job.)
The Sotheby’s auction also includes a third Köchert tiara. This one is a “superb” tiara of rubies and diamonds that can also be worn as a necklace. “Designed as a naturalistic spray of wild roses,” the auction catalogue notes, the tiara features “stamen and rose-buds set with cushion-shaped and oval rubies, the leaves pavé-set with cushion-shaped and rose diamonds.” Its auction estimate has been set at 110,000-160,000 Swiss francs (about $121,000-$176,000 USD).
Here’s a look at the jewel in its necklace setting—in my opinion, a much more beautiful second option for wearing the piece. I love the two little floral pendants.
Of course, you get a little screwdriver with this tiara/necklace as well. You can use the tool to attach and detach the piece to the tiara frame, but you can also use it to take other sections of the jewel apart. The set comes with six brooch fittings and two hairpin fittings, making it an incredibly versatile piece.
And it gets better—the tiara/necklace is part of a suite that also features a matching diamond and ruby brooch. That gorgeous jewel is being sold in the same auction as a separate lot.
To top it all off, the ruby and diamond floral set has a magnificent imperial provenance. In 1893, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria purchased the suite at Köchert as a wedding gift for his niece, Archduchess Margarete Sophie of Austria. Margarete Sophie was the youngest child of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, Franz Josef’s younger brother. (That means, of course, that Margarete Sophie was a sister of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, as well as an aunt of Emperor Karl I.) Margarete Sophie’s mother, just to continue the rather, uh, streamlined family tree, was Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Maria Annunciata was another daughter of King Ferdinand II. Princess Maria Immaculata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, the owner of the first tiara, was her younger sister.
Archduchess Margarete Sophie married yet another Württemberg sibling: Duke Albrecht, the older brother of Duchess Maria Isabella and Duke Robert. (Honestly, it’s so good, for genetic reasons, that royals started marrying commoners.) They had seven children, and the current head of the House of Württemberg, Duke Wilhelm, is one of their direct descendants. Margarete Sophie died at the age of 32 in 1902, a few months after the birth of her youngest daughter. The tiara passed to her husband, who bequeathed it to their son, Duke Philipp Albrecht, in 1913.
Also, just for fun, here’s an excellent portrait of Archduchess Margarete Sophie, taken during the years when she was the princess-abbess of the Theresian Institution of Noble Ladies in Prague. Housed in Prague Castle, the institution took in unmarried, impoverished young women from aristocratic backgrounds. They didn’t take vows, and they were allowed to leave the chapter to marry.
Traditionally, the Austrian emperor selected the princess-abbess who was one of the head administrators of the institution, and it’s no surprise that he always chose a Habsburg archduchess for the role. Archduchess Margarete Sophie was princess-abbess from 1886 until her marriage in 1893. (Another previous princess-abbess was Margarete Sophie’s maternal grandmother, Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, who held the position for a year before her marriage to King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies.)
The fourth tiara featured in the sale is a bit unusual, with an incongruous shield-shaped motif nestled in a wreath of leaves and berries. Sotheby’s describes it as “a double spray of foliate design set throughout with cushion-shaped and rose diamonds, accented with pear-shaped diamonds, centering on a lozenge-shaped motif set with cushion-shaped diamonds.” The diamond sprays from the tiara are detachable and can be worn as four separate brooches.
The tiara is also a bit of a mystery. While the three other tiaras in the sale have stated royal provenances, this one is simply described as having been made in the middle of the nineteenth century or later. The fact that it’s part of the sale indicates that it has some history with the Württemberg, but whatever that history is, it’s not shared as part of the lot notes. Perhaps that’s why the tiara features a lower auction estimate than the others. It’s expected to bring between 28,000-45,000 Swiss francs (about $31,000-$50,000 USD). How much will each tiara ultimately fetch? We’ll find out when the hammer falls in Geneva during the auction on Monday, November 6.
A scheduling note: there will be no regularly scheduled Sunday post this weekend. Instead, I’ll be putting up an article about the tiaras from Prince Christian’s birthday gala on Sunday afternoon/evening. Stay tuned!