The spectacular Pearl and Diamond Tiara from the Fürstenberg Princely Family is going on Auction at the Christies Magnificent Jewels Sale in Geneva next week, which makes it the perfect opportunity to feature the Fürstenberg Tiara, which we briefly covered last year!
Consisting of diamond medallions topped by pear-shaped pearls, this Family Heirloom also dates from the 19th century, and was made for Princess of Fürstenberg, née Countess Irma of Schönborn Buchheim in the 1890s using brooches made in the 1870s. The row of central elements are detachable and the necklace is wearable as necklace, with one additional clip brooch. Irma, Princess of Fürstenberg was portrayed wearing the tiara with a single cabochon emerald instead of the pearls, in a portrait in the 1890s.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Tiara was often worn by Princess Paula for a plethora of Balls and Banquets, including the Wedding Ball of Princess Marie Louise of Prussia and Count Rudolf of Schönburg-Glauchau in 1971.
The Pearl and Diamond Tiara was last photographed when it was worn by the current Princess von Fürstenberg for the Wedding Ball of Duke Friedrich of Württemberg and Princess Marie of Wied in 1993. The Princess also wore the piece as a necklace, when her younger son, Prince Antonius zu Fürstenberg, married Countess Matilde dei Principi Borromeo Arese Taverna in Italy in 2011.
The Tiara is now on Auction at the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels Sale in Geneva next week, with a series of splendid photos of the different configurations, and an Essay by Vincent Meylan:
UPDATE: The Tiara was sold for CHF 2,394,000, well above the CHF 400,000 – CHF 600,000 Estimate.
The letter which is kept in the Fürstenberg archives, headed by Flach Mediansky & Paltscho, famous Austrian jewelers at the end of the XIX century, explains the many ways in which the extraordinary tiara can be worn. The first and most obvious one, is to wear it complete. Eleven diamond motives in the shape of a double fleur-de-lys, twenty-three pear-shaped pearls (three larger ones) are all fixed on a old-cut diamond frame. This is the way that tiara must have been worn in court by its then owner: H.S.H. the princess of Fürstenberg, née countess Irma of Schönborn Buchheim (1867-1948).
Although most of their lands were located in Germany, in the south of Baden-Württemberg, the princes of Fürstenberg were princes of the Holy Roman Empire and they had received their titles from the Habsburg emperors. They also owned land in Bohemia and a very impressive palace in Vienna. Therefore, they were very much part of the Viennese high society.
The Austrian season always started in January with the New Year’s reception and ended in May with the Corpus Christie’s procession which was described by some as « God’s court ball ». Between those two dates, concerts, lavish dinners, private and official balls would take place. The most important of those events were the balls given at the Hofburg palace by the order of His Majesty Emperor Franz Joseph I. Divided in two categories: « Court balls » and « Balls at court ». 2000 guests were invited to the Court Balls. The list would include guests from the aristocracy, but also from the political and military world. « Balls at Court » only included 800 guests, chosen exclusively among the higher aristocracy. The princesses of Fürstenberg were included in both lists and were also invited to opera premières and private concerts. Therefore the princesses needed quite a few tiaras, or at least a very transformable one.
In the letter, the jeweller mentions a second way to wear the tiara, simply by removing the diamond motives. This way the 23 pearls seemed to just hang among the hair. A third way, even lighter, but still impressive, was to remove the smaller pearls, leaving only the big ones. A fourth way, was to wear only the diamond motives with no pearls. There was of course a fifth way, not mentioned in the letter, to replace the pearls with other precious stones. And this is exactly what princess Irma of Fürstenberg did when she had her portrait painted by Laszlo. She replaced the central pearl with an emerald drop. The diamond motives could also be assembled to be worn as a rather impressive diamond necklace. And each diamond motive could be worn as a brooch or a hair pin.
For centuries, the Fürstenberg family had been at the very top list of the most important aristocratical families in the Habsburg Empire. Their first ancestors were from Swabia in the south of Baden Württemberg. Not much remains today of their original castle built at the end of the XII century on the « Fürstenberg » which means « Hill of the Prince ». In 1250, this Fürstenberg castle was inherited by Henry of the house of Urach who took the name of Fürstenberg. Until the beginning of the XVIII century, the wealth and lands of the family were constantly divided between many different branches of the family following the German tradition. In 1667, the Heiligenberg branch of the family received the title of prince from the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1716, the last male heir of the Heiligenberg branch of the Fürstenberg family died without heirs. His estates and titles were inherited by Joseph Wilhelm Ernst of Fürstenberg-Stühlingen (1699-1762) who became the V prince of Fürstenberg. Five years later, he started the building of Donaueschingen castle, one of the most magnificent palaces in Germany. It still belongs today to the Fürstenberg family. In 1744, following the death of the member of the Fürstenberg-Mösskirch line, Prince Joseph Wilhelm Ernst united all the titles and possessions of the Fürstenberg family.
At the end of the XVIII century, the Fürstenberg principality covered 2,000 km2 and its population was about 100,000. The wealth and status of that family was such that in 1770, when archduchess Marie-Antoinette travelled to Versailles where she would marry the future Louis XVI of France, Donaueschingen was chosen as one of her stops. Prince Starhemberg, who was commander of the escort of the archduchess, was so amazed by the splendor of the Fürstenberg court that he wrote to Empress Marie-Thérèse, on the 3rd of May 1770:
« Around three in the afternoon, we arrived at the Prince of Fürstenberg’s estate at Donaueschingen. All here is established with magnificence as if the court was that of a sovereign. All the male courtesans were wearing a very rich uniform. And the ladies, including the princess, had white silk dresses embroidered with golden lace. The Prince had all the roads of his principality rebuilt for the archduchess’ trip. It must have cost him more than 200,000 gold florins »