Today marks the 85th Anniversary of the Death of Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha | Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna of Russia, who died on this day in 1936! The daughter of a British Prince and Russian Grand Duchess who became the Sovereigns of the illustrious Grand Duchy, and married first the Grand Duke of Hesse and then Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, who became the Russian Tsar in exile, Grand Duchess Victoria Melita lived a fascinating life and possessed a plethora of important jewels, of which we have only talked about the Hesse Strawberry Leaf Tiara and the her Greek Key Tiara, so today we’ll talk about her magnificent Cartier Sapphire Necklace!
Featuring a huge 311 carat cabochon sapphire and a 39 carat sapphire in a diamond chain, this Cartier Sautoir was a Christmas present from Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich to Princess Victoria Melita, known as ‘Ducky’, for Christmas in 1911, the year they returned to Russia from years of exile following their scandalous marriage. The Cartier Sapphire Sautoir was worn for a few portraits taken during the 1910s. During the Russian Revolution, the Grand Duchess’ jewels were smuggled out of Russia hidden within the stuffing of her daughters’ dolls, and faced with harsh financial difficulties in exile, it was time to sell the family jewels.
Luckily for Princess Victoria Melita, a buyer was close at hand, Queen Marie of Romania, sister of the Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, who had lost her jewels in Russia during WWI. Queen Marie wrote to their mother, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna:
I spoke to Ducky about some of Aunt Miechen’s jewellery that Ducky wants to sell as these pieces represent the only fortune the family has left – thank God that the jewels of the old lady are fabulous! She was an extraordinarily greedy woman and she received, throughout her entire life, more than her share of anything. Nando gave me a generous sum of money to buy jewellery, since mine are lost forever… It is however a horrible feeling to take these treasures from a person I love more than anything in the world. But at the same time I know that I am a gift from God to her, as I am ready to pay for the pieces in full and right away without negotiating the prices. Oh, and heaven, these jewels are wonderful, as seldom one can find!”
Queen Marie bought the Vladimir Sapphire Kokoshnik for herself, Ducky’s Greek Key Tiara for Princess Helen of Greece, the soon-to-be Romanian Crown Princess, and the Cartier Sapphire Sautoir for her eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth, who was about to marry Princess Helen’s brother, King George II of Greece, all around this time exactly 100 years ago. However, Queen Marie spoke about her indignation with her cousin, Queen Sophia of Greece:
Tino and Sophie have sent no wedding present to Lisabetha! Not the smallest tiniest little item of anything! – nothing! I confess to feeling indignant! Sophie has all her jewels, while I lost all mine and yet we made tremendous efforts to send her daughter a beautiful diadem! Oh!—if only I had my jewels, with what delight I would have given one of my diadems to Lisabetha! Now I have given a diadem to my daughter in law, while my own daughter has none!”
After dinner, Nando and I gave Lisabetha our wedding present—a chain of diamond links to which a huge and unique sapphire is attached. It had belonged to Ducky.
The Cartier Sapphire Sautoir was prominently worn by Queen Elisabeth of Greece for a series of portraits and at the Wedding of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia to Princess Olga of Greece in 1923. Following her divorce in 1935, former Queen Elisabeth amassed a great fortune and served as the First Lady of Romania, first for her brother, King Carol, and then nephew, King Michael, and also established close links with the Romanian Communist Party, earning her the name of the ‘Red Aunt’ of the sovereign.
When the Romanian Royal Family was forced into exile by the Communist Government in 1947, Princess Elisabeth managed to smuggle the Cartier Sapphire Sautoir out of the country and notably wore the necklace for a Gala in Paris in 1951. The current location of the necklace is with a private collection, as Princess Elisabeth probably sold the piece during her exile, or left it to her lover, Marc Favrat, who she adopted three months before her death in 1956.
UPDATE | The Cartier Sapphire Sautoir seems to have been on display at an exhibition recently, as found by Janet of the History of Famous Jewels and Collections Message Board.
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