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Royal Jewels
from Tsars to Maharajahs

Report of the lecture given by Joanna Hardy
on March 25th 2015

Joanna began by explaining that the wearing of jewels was about the person wearing them rather than simply the value of the jewels.  The jewels told the world I am rich, I am an important person and I have high status.  The jewels worn on the head were particularly significant as they represented the crowning of the person above their centre of intellect and the head is considered to be closer to God.

We are all familiar with the laurel leaf crown as worn by Apollo, which was often used as inspiration for goldsmiths in the future.  Other materials such as porcupine quills, mammoth tusks were used as well as precious stones.  If the materials used were in short supply or more difficult to obtain they were perceived as very valuable - a crown made of sea shells in the middle of a desert was highly prized.  It is amazing the distances travelled, in more primitive times, to obtain precious materials and stones.  For example the French merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689) made at least six trips to India to get diamonds.

Cleopatra was in a desirable position in that Egypt had a good supply of gold and precious stones such as emeralds, which was fortunate because she liked to adorn herself and her possessions such as sedan chairs, furniture etc.  The Egyptian Royal family employed many goldsmiths as slaves with a constant list of demands and it appears that the gold was often recycled and the precious stones put into different settings.

We have all seen many pictures of the Tutankhamen death mask and all his extravagant grave goods, items that were considered essential for him to take into his next life.

Joanna showed us many slides of Royal jewellery.  This 2000 year old crown from Afghanistan, which was for a female child and could be folded when not in use came from tomb VI on the Tillya Tepe site.  The hoard contained over 20,600 gold ornaments.

Empress Theodora, the Byzantine wife of Justinian I was so influential and possessive of her jewels she declared that no one other than the royal family was allowed to wear them.

The Munich Residenz has a good collection of Bavarian treasures, which were collected by the Bavarian rulers over the centuries.  One of the most outstanding pieces is the crown of Henry II in the early tenth century.  Another was made by the court jewellers of Napoleon for the Queen of Bavaria using huge natural pearls.  Formed from calcium carbonate, they are the protection the oyster lays down to surround an irritant inside its shell.  Joanna told us that if we wave at our pearls and we can see the wave it means that the pearls are of a good quality.

Another Bavarian royal crown used this famous large blue diamond of 31.06 carats, the Wittelsbach Graff diamond.  It was mined in India and set on the top of the crown.  The diamond had a large hole in the centre and it has been used and recut many times.  One lady even put a portrait in the hole.

Another famous diamond to come from India is Le blue de France or the King’s jewel, now known as the Hope diamond, 45.52 carats; which is supposedly cursed.   It has had a long history but at one time it was worn by the Sun King Louis 14th.  He headed an extravagant and well-adorned court, although paste or glass jewellery was sometimes used.  This diamond has been recut several times, a notoriously difficult procedure, as large diamonds are likely to shatter unless great skill is used in the process.

Marie de Medicis (1575-1642) wore the Beau Sancy 34.98 carats – a pear-cut double rose diamond also originating in India.

Napoleon chose a double diamond pear-shaped ring as his engagement ring for Josephine.  There was a magnificent array of diamond tiaras at his coronation.  Napoleon also favoured the fashion of inserting cameos into crowns and jewellery.  Large elaborate chests were built to house
Josephine's vast collection of jewellery.

The Russian Royal family did not stint on their finery.  A good example is the crown of Catherine The Great sporting a large red stone which is not a ruby but a spinel.  Fabergé, with his close connection to the Russian royal family, was responsible for a lot more than just decorated eggs.  He was a designer rather than a maker and he employed 500 craftsmen producing work of the highest standard.  He designed 50 eggs in total over 31 years; 42 of which have survived but 7 are still missing.  They are worth a fortune if you can find one!


Maharajah Bhupinder Singh of Patiala
wearing the Patiala Necklace

The Maharajahs in the title were well renowned for their adornments.  The Maharajah of Patiala was known for travelling with 7 trunks of jewellery and he had 148 necklaces made to accommodate his jewels.

Joanna told us the story of Anita Delgado a flamenco dancer who caught the eye of Maharajah Sir Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala.  She became his fifth wife and was blessed with many expensive jewels including an exquisite emerald necklace.

Joanna's talk was wide-ranging and I have not yet touched on her references to the jewels of our own Royal family.  A notable recent example here is the tiara worn by Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, on her wedding day.  This was made for the Queen Mother in 1936.  It has 739 brilliant cut diamond and 149 baguette cut diamonds.  A radiant bride indeed!

Heather Head