Today marks the 125th Anniversary of the birth of Queen Helen of Romania, who was born on this day in 1896! The Greek Princess who became the mother of the last King of Romania and was exiled many times from multiple countries, Queen Helen had some stunning jewels, and while we’ve already covered the Romanian Greek Key Tiara, her Bolin Sapphire Brooch and her Fleur-de-Lys Brooch, today, we’re taking a look at one of the most illustrious pieces in her collection, her Russian Sapphire Earrings.
Featuring large cabochon sapphires surrounded by diamonds, these earrings belonged to the famous Grand Duchess Vladimir, and possibly originate from Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, like the sapphires in the famous Vladimir Sapphire Kokoshnik. The Grand Duchess was pictured wearing her sapphires, in various configurations, in a series of portraits as one of the leading ladies in Tsarist Russia. After her jewels were dramatically smuggled from Russia in the aftermath of the Revolution, and her death in 1920, the Grand Duchess’ Sapphire Jewels were inherited by her eldest son, Grand Duke Kyril and his wife (and her niece) Princess Victoria Meltia of Edinburgh (known as Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna).
Faced with harsh financial difficulties in exile, the couple decided to sell the family jewels. Luckily for Princess Victoria Melita, a buyer was close at hand, Queen Marie of Romania, her sister, 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 her Cartier Sapphire Sautoir for her eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth, who was about to marry Princess Helen’s brother, King George II of Greece. 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!”
In addition to buying the jewels herself, Queen Marie also wrote in her diary about arranging for the Romanian Government to buy more pieces, which is how the Vladimir Sapphire Earrings came to Princess Helen:
I have bought for the government to give to Lisabetha a beautiful set of emeralds, collier and cross, that Baby was selling and for Sitta a superb sapphire brooch with earrings, of Ducky’s share from Aunt Miechen, wonderful, irreproachable stones.
The later Queen Helen, who has also received a massive Bolin Sapphire Brooch from her grandmother, Queen Olga of Greece, retained the Vladimir Sapphire Earrings through her marriage and divorce, as well as her numerous exiles and returns to Romania in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The sister of King Paul of Greece, she was a frequent guest in Athens, and also wore the Earrings for the Wedding of her niece, Princess Sophia, to the future King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1962, King Paul’s 60th Birthday Banquet, the Greek Monarchy Centenary, and at the Wedding Ball of King Constantine of Greece and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark in 1964, which was the last public appearance of the Sapphire Earrings as well as the Bolin Sapphire Brooch. By 1966, Queen Helen’s finances were strained, and while she managed to retain some jewels, like the Romanian Greek Key Tiara and her Fleur-de-Lys Brooch, she sold her Villa in Italy, some paintings she had smuggled out of Romania, and her Russian Sapphire Brooch at Auction.
However, like Queen Marie had come to her sister’s aid in 1921, Queen Helen’s sister-in-law, Queen Frederica of Greece, came to her aid and bought the Vladimir Sapphire Earrings, presumably to pair with the massive Sapphire which had previously belonged to Queen Marie. However, the Greek Royal Family were exiled the following year, and though Queen Frederica wore the earrings at the Christening of her grandson, now King Felipe VI of Spain, in 1968, they have not been publicly seen since. The Vladimir Sapphire Earrings were inherited by one of Queen Frederica’s three children; Queen Sofia of Spain, King Constantine II of Greece, and Princess Irene of Greece, and while some pieces, like the CartierSapphire have been auctioned, some of Queen Frederica’s other jewels have made recent appearences after decades, so lets hope the Earrings might soon make a reappearance!