Turquoise Royal Jewels for December
December’s birthstone, turquoise, has long been considered a sacred stone which protects the wearer from evil and ill health. It is an opaque phosphate mineral of medium hardness and comes in many shades of blue-green, of which robin’s-egg blue is the most valuable. Its use in royal jewellery goes back for thousands of years. Turquoise was used in Ancient Egypt in the tombs of the Pharaohs; the Cairo Museum has pieces of turquoise jewelry that date from 5500 B.C. King Tutankhamen, or as he is more commonly known, “King Tut,” was buried in a coffin lined with turquoise. His solid gold mask was inlaid with turquoise, and turquoise was inlaid upon the gold circlet (tiara) found on his mummy.
Turquoise has continued to be used and worn by royalty and underwent a revival in popularity in the mid-1800’s with the advent of the colorful Victorian Age. It was a favorite stone of Queen Victoria’s, filled with sentimental meaning. As gifts for Queen Victoria’s bridesmaids, Prince Albert designed a turquoise brooch in the shape of the Coburg Eagle (see the collage); the brooches were made by the jeweller Charles du Vé for Garrard. Also within the Saxe-Coburg family there is a turquoise parure consisting of tiara, necklace, brooch, earrings, and bracelet.
The British royal family has within its branches an impressive collection of turquoise jewelry. On her 21st birthday, HRH Princess Margaret received from her mother, Queen Elizabeth, the Persian “Flames of Love” parure of Persian turquoises set in diamonds that she herself had received as a wedding gift in 1923 from her father-in-law, King George V. According to Geoffrey Munn, it was made by Garrad around 1900. The tiara (see the collage) incorporates lamps, laurels, and lovers’ knots, and is an exquisite piece of workmanship. Within Munn’s book, “Tiaras: A History of Splendor”, he devotes four pages to photographs of the tiara alone. (Personal Note: I never had any interest in turquoises at all—and in fact considered them to be quite tacky, until I saw this tiara. My entire viewpoint changed and I now love the stone). HRH The Duchesss of Cornwall also owns a lovely turquoise necklace that has unfortunately not been often seen. Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy, has a delicate and beautiful tiara and matching necklace with flower and bow motifs. The central stones of the flowers can be interchanged between turquoises, pearls, and sapphires.
Another turquoise parure found within the British Royal Family has been, at least partially, in existence since 1850. At that time, three turquoise brooches were given to HRH Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge (Queen Mary’s mother) as a confirmation present. In 1893, HSH Princess Mary of Teck married the HRH Prince George, The Duke of York (future King George V) and received from her parents, The Duke and Duchess of Teck, a parure of the original three brooches, a tiara, necklace, and earrings. At that time, the tiara was altered and its height decreased. In 1935 this parure was given to Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott when she married HRH Prince Henry, The Duke of Gloucester. At that time, the parure had grown in size and consisted of the tiara (which is a scroll design), necklace of 26 turquoise and diamond pendents, earrings, ring, two bow brooches, corsage brooch with tassel, bangle bracelet, and two four-row turquoise bead bracelets. Princess Alice’s daughter-in-law, the present Duchess of Gloucester, now wears the parure on both formal and more informal occasions.
Queen Mary’s daughter, HRH Princess Mary, later HRH The Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood, received a number of impressive and beautiful pieces of jewellery as wedding gifts when she married Henry, Viscount Lascelles, later sixth Earl of Harewood. One of these gifts was a turquoise and diamond stomacher from Colonel and Lady Eva Dugdale. It is a typical late Victorian design and was auctioned (along with a large amount of the late Princess’ jewels) in 1966. Other pieces of royal turquoise have been auctioned off as well, including pieces from the collection of HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. One piece, this lovely turquoise and diamond bow brooch, circa 1860, sold for $44,160.00. Another piece, this turquoise and diamond ring, sold for $19,872.00. The turquoise and amethyst bib necklace by Cartier, belonging to the Duchess of Windsor, was auctioned along with the rest of her jewellery in 1987.
These turquoise earrings are said to have belonged to Catherine II (the Great) of Russia; they were sold in 1988. Also auctioned relatively recently was Queen Marie-Jose of Italy’s turquoise necklace and bracelet, circa 1830; the complete parure is seen here for sale at S. J. Phillips.
It is difficult to have a discussion about jewelry without including pieces from the collection of the Marquess of Londonderry. One fine example, among many fine examples in the collection, is a diamond and turquoise necklace. It is mounted in silver and gold, typical of the era in which it was created. It was purchased by the wife of the third Marquess of Londonderry in 1820.
Iranian turquoises are considered to be among the finest in the world. Her Imperial Majesty Empress Farah of Iran, the widow of the late Shah of Iran, wore turquoise jewels remarkable for not only their workmanship, but also the size of the turquoise stones themselves. Some of the pieces include a necklace of nine pendants set with diamonds, a parure consisting of tiara, necklace, and earrings, and another parure with the tiara and earrings (note that the stones in this tiara are significantly larger than in the previous one and in a different setting).
Queen Margrethe of Denmark has worn a lovely turquoise and diamond bandeau which she inherited from her mother, Queen Ingrid, seen here wearing the tiara, as well as other pieces of turquoise jewelry. The bandeau is a simple piece, but it is most attractive with a daisy flower design. Her Majesty also owns a pendant necklace, earrings, and brooch of turquoise.
The royal family of Luxembourg recently debuted a small turquoise parure, seen here on Grand Duchess Maria Teresa. The parure apprears to consist of a small tiara, cluster necklace, and earrings. A nice close-up of the necklace can be seen here. HSH Princess Grace of Monaco also wore a small collection of turquoises, consisting of earrings, necklace, and brooch. The royal family of The Netherlands has a small collection of turquoise jewelry, which has been seen on Queen Juliana, Queen Beatrix, Crown Princess Maxima, and Princess Laurentien. There are several pieces, including a large pair of cluster earrings that can be worn or without a drop pendant, a brooch, and a necklace set on a gold chain. These pieces (and many others of the wonderful Dutch Royal Jewels collection) can be viewed here.
We have just read about some remarkable pieces of royal turquoise jewelry that are beautiful to look upon. But, as we all know, there are less successful pieces out there. The Westminster Halo tiara, which contained the Hastings diamond and the two Arcot diamonds, was sold by the family in 1959 to pay death duties. Harry Winston purchased the piece for $110,000. It was at one time converted to include three large Persian turquoises instead. Munn photographed the tiara for his book, “Tiaras: A History of Splendor,” and it no longer contained the turquoises.
Another less fortunate tiara resetting involving turquoises is that of the weddiing gift parure to Empress Marie-Louise from her husband, Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a magnificent tiara, consisting of emeralds and diamonds. The original parure contained a necklace, tiara, earrings, and hair comb. The tiara remained within the family until around 1953, when it was sold to Van Cleef and Arpels, who replaced the emeralds with turquoises. It was later sold to Marjorie Merriweather Post and she donated it to the Smithsonian Institution. A comparison of the two pieces can be seen here. However, although the overall effect is not as majestic as when the piece contained emeralds, the turquoises used are certainly of the finest quality.
The Gregorian calendar has poems matching each month to a birthstone; in 1890, Tiffany and Co., published a poem which contained this passage for the month of December:
If cold December gave you birth
The month of snow and ice and mirth
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate’er you do.
Turquoises have certainly endured the test of time and design.
Collage by Kelly Lacroix, printed with permission
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