Princess de Réthy’s Köchert Emerald Brooch

Today marks the 105th Anniversary of the Birth of Princess Lilian of Belgium, Princess of Réthy, who was born on this day in 1916! The commoner who controversially married the widowed King Leopold III of Belgium in house arrest during the Second World War, Princess Lilian was the beloved stepmother to Grand Duchess Joséphine Charlotte of Luxembourg, King Baudouin and King Albert II of Belgium, and as the First lady, but not Queen of Belgium, for almost two decades, possessed a spectacular Jewellery Collection, which included this Köchert Emerald Brooch!

Queen Elisabeth’s Cartier Bandeau Tiara | Queen Astrid’s Emeralds

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When Archduchess Marie-Valérie of Austria, the youngest daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth, married Archduke Franz Salvator of Austria-Tuscany in 1890, the Austrian Crown Jeweller A.E. Köchert created a Pearl Tiara and Brooch, the design of which was later copied when Köchert created an Emerald Brooch for the Archduchess, alongside an Emerald Necklace.

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By the 1940s, the descendents of Archduchess Marie-Valérie sold the Köchert Emerald Brooch, which was bought by King Leopold III of Belgium, the son of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, a first cousin of Archduchess Marie-Valérie. The Emerald Brooch was bought by the King soon after his controversial marriage to Lilian Baels, who was not given the title of Queen but was instead the Princess de Réthy. The Family was first under House Arrest at the Royal Castle of Laeken and then in Nazi Germany and Austria, where the Brooch was likely acquired, spending the years after the War in exile in Switzerland while the Belgian Government debated the King’s conduct during the War. The Princess de Réthy was pictured in the Brooch for numerous portraits throughout the 1940s, usually with the Emerald Tiara and Earrings that belonged to the late Queen Astrid, the King’s beloved first wife, also wearing the Brooch following the family’s return to Belgium, with the Abdication of King Leopold and the Accession of King Baudouin in 1951, with the Princess serving as the First Lady of the Belgian Court while Queen Elisabeth retired from most duties.

There are few pictures of the Princess de Réthy wearing the Köchert Emerald Brooch after the late 1950s, when she began to wear Queen Astrid’s Emerald Brooch, and by the 1980s, her relationship with her step-children had deteriorated so much that she did not inform them before auctioning part of her Jewellery Collection at Christie’s in Geneva in 1987, when the Brooch was sold, and its current location is unknown. The Köchert Pearl Tiara and Brooch were auctioned by Archduchess Marie-Valérie’s descendants at Dorotheum in Vienna in November 2019.


One thought on “Princess de Réthy’s Köchert Emerald Brooch

  1. This is a very beautiful brooch. It’s so unfortunate that King Leopold III was wrongly and unfairly accused of collaborating with the Nazis. I have read that Princess Lilian actually saved the lives of the royal children. The story goes that towards the end of the war, their Nazi jailers gave her some “vitamins” to give to the children since they looked so skinny and malnourished. She was going to, but then changed her mind because she got a bad feeling about the offer. It turns out that the so called vitamins were actually poison. I don’t know if this is a fact, but it is beguiling to think of her as a kind and caring stepmother instead of the maligned figure she later became. However, one thing’s for sure. She is partly responsible for the poor state of the Belgian Royal family’s jewelry collection. Between Princess Josephine Charlotte taking a great number of pieces with her when she married and Princess Lillian selling almost all of the rest, it’s a miracle the Belgian royals have any jewels at all! I think the Swedes and Dutch did a great thing by creating a jewelry foundation. Such a thing would have made it possible for this lovely brooch to be available for all of us to see.

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