Posts tagged emeralds and diamonds

One of the very first jewels Anita received from her husband, a peacock comb by Mellerio.  The style is pure Art Nouveau.

The Kapurthala Tiara in emeralds and diamonds, by Cartier.  It was commissioned by the Maharaja in the early 1930s and is a triumph of the neo Indian jewels Cartier was creating for the Indian rulers at the time.

A long forgotten story was thrust into the spotlight again last year with the Victoria and Albert’s exhibition of Indian and Moghul jewellery in the Al Thani Collection.  This was the romantic, true tale of Anita Delgado, the humble Spanish dancer raised to the rank of maharani and showered with jewels, some of which later found their way into the Al Thani Collection, most of which have been lost forever.

Anita Delgado was a beautiful flamenco dancer, born in Malaga, Spain, in 1890.  Not much is known about her early childhood, other than her talent as a dancer and rudimentary upbringing.  In 1906, at the tender age of 16 she was seen dancing in a cafe in Madrid by Sir Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala, one of the great princely states of India.  He was in Spain to attend the wedding of Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg and he fell in love with Anita on sight.  After much protracted courting during which Anita rebuffed all advances, she agreed to marry him.  Spanish society was so appalled by this social mismatch that any signs of social climbing were met with derisory cries of ‘wanting to marry a maharaja’ for decades after.

Rock crystal and emerald necklace presented by the Maharaja of Kapurthala to his wife Anita in 1925. The cracks in the marriage were irreparable at the time this jewel was gifted, as they divorced the same year.

The magnificent and beautiful emerald that Anita Delgado was given by her husband, the Maharaja of Kapurthala, as a reward for learning Urdu. 

Anita was carried off to Paris where she was given, in modern terms, a makeover.  Not only was she taught how to eat, walk and talk but she was also showered in clothes and jewellery- and what jewels they were.  It was the start of a lifelong passion, one that she shared with her husband.  The jewels all reflect the changing tastes of the 20th century, starting with the naturalism of Art Nouveau, through the magnificent Belle Epoque and later, Art Deco.  The 1920s saw a period of great collaboration between the Indian princely families and the great European jewellery houses.  The maharajas had chests filled with ancestral stones, many of which were reset in bespoke creations in Europe in a style that successfully married the grand, Indian style with the clean, monochrome lines of Art Deco. 

Anita Delgado, Prem Kaur, Maharani of Kapurhtala wearing her famous moon shaped emerald.

Anita married the Maharaja of Kapurthala in a civil ceremony in Paris and became the Maharani when she married him again in India under Sikh rites, taking the name of Prem Kaur.  She was the maharaja’s fifth wife and it says a lot about her strength of character that she insisted on, and was given unheard of freedoms for a woman in India, being allowed to live in her own quarters outside the harem.  One of the many gems she set her cap at was a magnificent, unusual emerald cut in the shape of a crescent moon which decorated a sacred elephant.  Her husband granted it to her on condition that she learnt Urdu.  She was proficient enough to have her request fulfilled six months later.

Sadly the marriage did not bring either of them happiness and the princely couple parted ways, divorcing in 1925.  She was given a generous monthly stipend, allowed to keep all the jewels she had acquired during their marriage and allowed to keep her title, all on condition that she never remarried and never returned to India.  Anita spent the rest of her life between Malaga, Biarritz, Deauville and Paris, dying in relative obscurity in 1962.  A very considerable portion of her jewels and possessions were sunk in transport by shipping tank and the current maharaja’s family are still trying to recover them.


The matchless emerald necklace of Elizabeth Taylor.  Made by Bvlgari, it was a present from Richard Burton.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing the necklace in 1965 after winning her Oscar for 'Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf'.

A rare treat is in store for you if you happen to have half an afternoon to spare in London this week... for a very limited time only, Bvlgari are showing seven jewels from the collection from Elizabeth Taylor.  These are all highly unique pieces that the Italian jewellery house made and which were subsequently acquired by Elizabeth.  The actress’ substantial jewellery collection was sold after her death in 2011, with the proceeds going to charity, in accordance to her last wishes.  Bvlgari tried to buy back all the jewellery made by them on offer at the auction, but they were outbid on several pieces.  As has been reported, the jewels sold way over their original estimate, highlighting the pulling power of Elizabeth’s mega-stardom. 

Happily for us, though, they managed to bid successfully on what was probably Elizabeth’s most famous piece, her magnificent emerald necklace.  It was a gift to her from Richard Burton, and he and Elizabeth would spend many happy afternoons in Bvlgari in Rome while filming Cleopatra.  The stones are matchless; the set was added to over the years with other Bvlgari pieces which are also on show, such as a peerless emerald pendant that can also be worn as a brooch, an important emerald ring and a charming emerald and diamond brooch in the shape of a spray of flowers.

The emerald and diamond flower spray brooch.

The boldly designed geometric sautoir, featuring an impressive Burmese sugar loaf sapphire just shy of 53 carats.

Elizabeth Taylor with Richard Burton looking impossibly glamorous, wearing her sapphire and diamond sautoir.

Also on show is the dramatic geometric sapphire and diamond sautoir executed in a bold geometric design.  The centre stone is a beautiful, sugar loaf sapphire of just under 53 carats, of a dreamy blue hue that is only found in the most perfect examples from Burma.  It is accompanied by another important cabochon sapphire set into a diamond ring, which Elizabeth bough some years after the sautoir, realising that it perfectly matched the stone already in her possession.

The exhibition, which also includes four costumes worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, is small- but perfect due to the quality of the exhibits.  It is being held to celebrate the 125 year anniversary of Bvlgari and there is no knowing when these jewels will be seen again.  One rather sad thing is that these jewels will probably never be worn; having been owned by someone who derived so much pleasure from playing with and wearing her glitter, there is something almost melancholy in their fate of being forever locked behind glass.

Bvlgari and Elizabeth Taylor is on show at Bvlgari, 168 New Bond Street, London, W1S 4RB, until 16th July 2016.

Choosing an Emerald: African or Colombian?
Angelina Jolie wearing Lorraine Schwartz Colombian emerald earrings.

Angelina Jolie wearing Lorraine Schwartz Colombian emerald earrings.

To the layman, Colombian emeralds have always been touted as being the best of the best, up there in mystique with Golconda diamonds, Burmese rubies and Kashmiri sapphires.  However, to add interest to the mix and not a little confusion, African (and especially Zambian) emeralds have carved out a considerable niche in the jewellery world.

Emeralds are 100 times rarer than diamonds.  Colombian emeralds (which still account for 50-90% of world production, depending on the year) have long been treasured for their deep, saturated green velvety colour.  Having been plundered by the Spanish in South America, some of the finest examples found their way to India via Europe.  These stones were often magnificently carved and then set into extravagant jewels and objects.

Old vs. New: 16th century watch found in the Cheapside hoard carved from a single emerald, displayed next to a Zambian emerald crystal.

However, Zambian emeralds have become more and more common in the use of jewellery, with Zambia now accounting for almost 20% of world production.  The greatest producer of these is Gemfields, whose company philosophy is to produce ethically sourced emeralds. According to their website, they have achieved over three thousand consecutive shifts free of reportable injuries since taking over the Kagem mine.

Emeralds occur in hues ranging from yellow-green to blue-green; for a stone to be considered a proper emerald, the tone must be medium to dark and green must be the primary hue.  Yellow and blue secondary hues are normal.  Emeralds derive their colour from the presence of chromium and vanadium.  African emeralds have less vanadium and more iron, which makes them bluer.  As African and Colombian emeralds come from different mineral beds, the latter tend to have less inclusions and therefore more clarity.

Bvlgari Colombian emerald and diamond necklace.

So which to buy: greener emeralds from Colombia, or bluish-green, slightly less included from Zambia?  The answer lies entirely with personal preference.  If you place two stones from different parts of the world side by side, the difference is noticeable and the buyer must go with the hue that they like best.  As long as the stone is relatively clean and has a good saturation with as little grey tone as possible, there is no other guideline.  The great jewellery houses pay less and less distinction to the source and you are likely to find both Colombian and Zambian in the collections of Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels and Bvlgari.   Regardless of origin, special attention must be paid to where the inclusion is in the stone- this can almost be done with the naked eye, as flawless emeralds are almost non-existent.  If the inclusion is near the surface and/or close to a facet, it will be a far more susceptible to breakage, and therefore only purchased with caution.

Faberge 'Devotion' ring, set with a Zambian emerald of over 7 carats.

Worthy of an Empress: Marie Louise's Necklace

As emeralds are May’s birthstone, I thought it might be appropriate to start this month with a stunner of an emerald piece: the Empress Marie Louise’s emerald necklace.  It is an imposing piece, softened by scrolls of elegant Neo-Classical motifs so much in vogue at the time and like any good piece of jewellery, it has not dated.  

The emerald and diamond necklace and earrings Marie Louise of Austria was given by Napoleon as a wedding present in 1810.

Due to her inability to give birth to an heir (the decider of the fate of many a royal consort), Napoleon had divorced his extravagant, extrovert wife, Josephine de Beuharnais.  They remained on thoroughly amicable terms to the end.  The necklace was made and presented to the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria on occasion of her marriage to the Emperor Napoleon in 1810.  The marriage, incidentally, was a bitter and humiliating pill to swallow for the Hapsburgs: the great-niece of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette and daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor married to the upstart child of the French Revolution with Imperial pretensions.

The Empress Marie Louise.  The diamond necklace she is wearing survived intact and can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Napoleon was lavish in his bestowal of jewellery with his entire family; as the French Crown Jewels had been stolen during the French Revolution and only partially recovered, he needed to create dazzling pieces as a foil to his new Imperial status.  Not only did he shower his two consorts with generous presents, he gave freely to his family too, and several of these pieces have survived and passed by descent into the Royal Families of Europe.  Even without its impressive provenance, the Marie Louise necklace could be regarded as almost priceless- not only are the emeralds of fantastic size, deep, saturated colour and beautifully matched, but briolette emeralds are incredibly rare.  Due to the brittle crystal structure of emerald, they are almost always cut square or emerald cut in order not to put too much stress on the stone.  A pair of large matching briolette emeralds is unusual, to have ten in one piece is really showing off.

The tiara which also formed part of the wedding set.  The emeralds were removed and sold by Van Cleef and Arpels and replaced with turquoises.

The necklace was made by Etienne Nitot et Fils, who had been apprenticed to Aubert, Marie Antoinette’s court jeweller and who was the one of the most talented jewellers of his generation.  It was part of a much larger set of jewellery which also comprised earrings, a comb and a tiara.  After the fall of Napoleon, somehow this valuable set was not considered to be part of the Crown Jewels and the Empress Marie Louise was able to take it back to Austria with her.  She left the parure to her cousin, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and it passed to his descendants.  Van Cleef and Arpels acquired the tiara in 1953 and shockingly took out the emeralds to sell them, replacing them with turquoises.  The necklace and earrings remained intact- like I said, it was a piece that did not date, which is probably why it wasn’t reset.  The renown jewellery dealer Humphrey Butler brokered the sale of the necklace and earrings to the Musée du Louvre, where it can be admired today.

A detail of Napoleon crowning Josephine; note the lavish jewels of the Empress and the various ladies of the Court.