Friday, February 15, 2013

Swedish Royal Jewels: The Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure

This neo-classical sapphire and diamond parure has to be one of the most beautiful works of jewellery craftsmanship ever. From the design to the rich colour of the sapphires – it is quite simply perfection. Not to mention, it is also one of the most complete parures out there.
The Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure
The original parure consisted of a tiara, necklace, earrings, brooch and four hairpins. At some point, the original earrings were separated from the set, and so Queen Louise had two of the earrings converted into a pair of earrings. 

To learn about each individual element of the parure, as well as its history and provenance, read on.

The pride and joy of the parure is of course the tiara. It is made of eleven rectangular-cut sapphire clusters set on a base of honeysuckle flowers and leaves, and decorated with eleven large oval-cut and hundreds of smaller diamonds. 
The Sapphire Tiara
The tiara consists of eleven separate sections, which means it can be adjusted to perfectly fit the shape of the wearer’s head. It can also be worn in virtually any form, from a diadem to crown. That flexibility is probably the reason it has become Queen Silvia’s favourite (and signature) tiara. Another reason must be the fact that despite its impressive size and giant stones, the tiara is actually quite lightweight. 
The tiara (bottom left), close up of the tiara's centrepiece (bottom right), and the tiara stored flat in a box (top)
The Leuchtenberg Tiara has an interesting storing method; because of the aforementioned flexibility, it lays flat, which must make the transportation a lot easier. 

The original tiara included pearls that were interchangeable with the sapphires. Actually, there is a bit of a debate on this; the presence of pearls is supported only by one single portrait of Queen Josephine – and there is no guarantee it wasn't simply an artistic freedom. 
Queen Josephine wearing the pearl version of the tiara
The doubts over the existence of pearls were strengthened when the records on jewellery of Queen Josephine and the Duchess of Leuchtenberg were studied: neither contained any mention of pear-shaped pearls. At the same time, a meticulous examination of the tiara in 2006 showed that the sapphires are indeed removable and could be switch for other stones. 

The necklace consists of a base of 14 sapphires in diamond frame. The largest sapphire in the middle and smaller sapphires on either side have sapphire pendant clusters hanging from them. 
The Sapphire Necklace
The lower sets of pendant clusters are detachable but as far as I know, only Queen Josephine has worn the necklace in that configuration. 

The brooch consists of a single large round sapphire in a frame of small diamonds, which in turn are surrounded by 16 large round-cut diamonds. 
The Sapphire Brooch
It is unusual for parures of the time to contain only one brooch but there is no evidence the set ever had another brooch or devant de corsage. 

The earrings consist of 2 sapphires in diamond frame hanging from two round diamonds each. The pair currently worn with the parure is relatively new and wasn't part of the original set. The original parure did contain earrings but it isn't known what happened to them. 
The Sapphire Earrings made from the larger pair of sapphire hairpins
Queen Victoria never wore earrings herself so it is possible she gave away the original pair, or had them dismantled to be used for other purposes. Queen Louise decided to make the parure whole again and converted the larger two of the four hairpins into a pair of earrings. 

The hairpins consist of 2 small sapphires surrounded by 8 round diamonds. 
The smaller pair of sapphire hairpins
Originally, there were four hairpins but because earrings were missing from the set, Queen Louise converted the larger two hairpins into a pair of earrings. 

History and Provenance
The Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure is attributed to Marie-Etienne Nitot, the official jewellery to Napoleon I and founder of the House of Chaumet. The sapphires used for the creation of the parure are believed to have been a wedding gift from Napoleon to Princess Augusta of Bavaria. 
Queen Josephine (left) and Queen Louise (middle and right) wearing the Sapphire Parure
Princess Augusta was the daughter of Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and Augusta of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1806, she married Eugene de Beauharnais, the only son of Empress Josephine and thus a stepson of Napoleon. Ten years later, King Maximilian created Eugene the Duke of Leuchtenberg and Prince of Eichstadt. 

In her will, Augusta left the sapphires to her eldest daughter, Josephine who was married to King Oscar I of Sweden and Denmark (a fun fact: Oscar was the son of Charles XIV of Sweden and Desiree Clay, herself former fiancée of Napoleon). The emeralds were left to Augusta’s younger daughter, Empress Amelie of Brazil, however upon Amelie’s death, Josephine inherited most of her sister’s jewellery as well. Coupled with the jewels she had inherited from Queen Desiree, which meant Josephine had amassed one of the biggest and grandest jewellery collections of the time. To the day, her magnificent parures continue to be the centrepieces of jewellery collections of three countries – Sweden, Denmark and Norway. 
Queen Victoria, Princess Birgitta and Princess Sybilla wearing the Sapphire Parure
After Queen Josephine’s death in 1876, the sapphire parure was inherited by her son, King Oscar II of Sweden. Oscar II’s wife, Queen Sophia isn’t known to have ever worn the tiara or any other element of the set. King Oscar and Queen Sophia presented the parure to Princess Victoria of Baden upon her marriage to Prince Oscar Gustav (future Gustav V) in 1881. 

Unlike her mother-in-law, Victoria did wear this set quite often. She was also the very last private owner of the Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure. Feeling it was too important to ever leave the Royal Family, she bequeathed the parure to the Bernadotte Family Foundation in 1930. 
Queen Silvia has worn the tiara pretty consistently since her marriage to the King in 1976
Since then, the parure has almost exclusively been worn by the first ladies of the Kingdom. Queen Louise of Sweden loved it and wore it for many of her official portraits and photographs. Princess Sibylla wore the set after she became Sweden’s first lady in 1965 (upon the death of Queen Louise), and until her own tragic death in 1972. The only exception to this unofficial first lady-only rule was Princess Birgitta; she wore the parure for the wedding of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Silvia Sommerlath. 

Since then, the parure has been worn exclusively by Queen Silvia. The tiara in particular is the Queen’s signature piece; it’s also her most-worn tiara. Crown Princess Victoria wore the sapphire hairpins for one of the Nobel dinners but she is yet to début the tiara. It is quite likely she won’t actually wear it until she is the Kingdom’s first lady. 
Queen Silvia's hairstyles with the Tiara (left and middle), and Queen Silvia and Princess Victoria wearing the hairpins (right and middle)
Silvia gushed about the parure in the documentary about the Swedish jewellery collection, The Royal Jewels: “It’s an excellent, magnificent piece of jewellery, with very dark blue sapphires. It is very beautiful and you have the tiara, the brooch but also the little pins that can be used in your hair, and of course there are the earrings. It’s very easy to wear and is not at all heavy. You can pick up the form you like best: you can have it half-open like a diadem, or opt for a crown-like setting. There are a lot of possibilities, and it’s also flat which makes it easy to transport”. 

I can totally see why the Queen loves this piece so much; it’s really absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. The rich colour of the sapphires + beautiful setting + excellent craftsmanship = a true success story jewellery-wise. I am really glad the parure is part of the Family Foundation and will never leave the family. This set is made to be worn by a Queen!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting history about this set of jewels, they do get passed around the royal families, don't is beautiful and sure has the bling factor yet not my favorite. I am a big ruby, garnet and amethyst fan along with pearls and diamonds. I think the warm colors of jewels just make the sun shine on the ladies wearing them.