Portuguese Crown Jewels at the Royal Treasury Museum

In the month of June, the Portuguese Royal Treasure Museum has finally opened its doors after years of waiting. The city of Lisbon now has a new cultural sight which is housed in one of the largest safes in the world, divided by 3 floors and equipped with a sophisticated security system. It gives permanent display to a unique collection of important heritage value, with over one thousand pieces, comprising jewellery, insignia, decorations, coins, and pieces of civil and religious gold-smithery, and so assistant editor, David Rato, has written about the splendid exhibition after his visit!

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This collection is shown at the west wing of the Ajuda National Palace, the official residence of the last sovereigns of the Portuguese monarchy. This Neoclassical monument has a curious story, as its construction was never finished. The works started in 1795 and the Palace was meant to be one of the biggest in Europe. However, the Napoleonic Invasions, the Civil War and the lack of funds, delayed the finishing of the project for many years. In the second half of the XIX century, when the Palace started to be occupied permanently by the Royal Family, only a third of the original project was concluded. For the creation of this museum, the Palace’s west wing was finally finished. However, it was decided for a more contemporary solution, that successfully mixes the old and the new.

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The exhibition is divided into eleven sections: Gold and Diamonds from Brazil, Coins and Medals from the Crown, the Jewels, Orders of Knighthood and Orders of Merit, Royal Insignia, the Crown’s Silver, Private Collections, Diplomatic Gifts, the Royal Chapel, the Royal Table and the Treasure’s Travels.

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The first section, “Gold and Diamond from Brazil” evokes the period when Portugal and Brazil were part of the same global Empire. In the end of the XVII century, massive gold deposits were found in the region later dubbed Minas Gerais. In the quarter of the XVIII century, diamonds were also found in unprecedented quantities. Testimony of this, are several gold nuggets that belonged to the Royal Treasure. The most significant one is known as the “torrão” (lump) and weights around 22 kilos. Regarding the diamonds, a large wooden box that used to store the collection of loose diamonds from the Crown is shown, as well as a fragment of a large uncut diamond weighting 34 carats. Unfortunately, the collection used to have a second, much larger (138.5 carats), uncut stone that was stolen in The Netherlands while it was on loan for an exhibition in 2002. An impressively huge uncut aquamarine is also exhibited in this section.

David Rato | Spanish Royal Jewels

The section “Orders of Knighthood and Orders of Merit” showcases various examples of foreign Orders granted to several Portuguese monarchs, namely the British Order of the Garter, the Danish Order of the Elephant, The Netherland’s Order of the Lion, the Swedish Order of the Seraphim and a beautiful jewel-studded badge of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece. This symbolic objects have all gained prominence with the development of international diplomatic relations and have been consolidated as an indispensable tool for recognising merit and services of national and foreign citizens.

David Rato | Spanish Royal Jewels

The “Jewel” section is one of the most interesting of the Museum. According to the information provided, the jewellery collection is formed by pieces from different provenances: There are the “Crown Jewels”, a group that was owned by the State, and set to be worn exclusively by incumbent sovereigns. Created in 1827, following the distribution of the estate of D. João VI, it was at the disposal of successive monarchs until the establishment of the Republic in 1910. And a group composed of dozens of jewellery objects which were the private property of Portuguese sovereigns and royal family members and ended up staying in the country after the Republican Revolution.

This group’s display begins with a marvellous bejewelled snuffbox. Made of gold, diamonds and emeralds, it was made in 1756 in Paris, by the French Crown Jeweller, for King José I. It is followed by a huge devant-de-corsage studded with magnificent Colombian emeralds. This bow brooch was created for Queen Maria Bárbara of Spain but ended up being inherited by one of the Queen’s Portuguese nieces. In the second half of the XIX century, it was dismantled in order to create a more wearable parure. However, the initial structure was kept intact (sans the stones), allowing the bow brooch to be remounted during a restauration process in the XX century. Immediately bellow, there is much smaller bow brooch, suspending an important brownish yellow pear-shaped diamond.   

Following, three epaulettes, or shoulder brooches, are displayed. The first two were commissioned on the second quarter of the XVIII century. One of them is set with yellow diamonds, a ruby and a spinel, silver and gold, while the other is made of diamonds set in silver. The third one was created in Brazil in 1811 for King João VI. Queen Maria Pia and Queen Amélie both wore it converted into a curious fringe bracelet.

The Tiara and Necklace from the family’s Diamond Star Parure are also shown in this section. Unfortunately, the other pieces from the set were dismantled during the restauration of the Crown Jewels that took place in the XX century. These pieces were already covered more in depth in a previous article. Next to the parure, there is a small case with three stunning sapphires, an oval-shaped one and two pear-shapes ones. This deep-blue stones were used as earrings, pendants and brooches by some Portuguese queens, namely Queen Maria Pia and Queen Amélie.

The collection also includes a Diamond Rivière and matching Bracelet. There was a second similar (but bigger) Necklace that was also stolen in The Netherlands in 2002. These pieces were created using Brazilian diamonds from the Crown’s Collection. Next there is a case displaying the remaining 43 diamond-set Buttons from the original lot of 88 Buttons. The missing ones were dismantled in the past to create other jewels.

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The next cabinet showcases a collection of Swords that are true examples of craftmanship. Most of them have the hilt made in gold. However, there is one that is beautifully set with diamonds.

The next cabinet is showing another very elaborate Devant de Corsage. This one was created in the second half of the XVIII century and is made of rubies and rose-cut diamonds set in silver and gold. It was reportedly created for Queen Mariana Vitoria of Portugal. Next to the Brooch, there is a set of Miniatures surround by a frame of diamonds. Some are set to be used as Pendants, while others are meant to be worn as Rings. They depict King Carlos III of Spain, some other members of the Spanish Royal Family, and King João VI and Queen Carlota Joaquina of Portugal. This cabinet also shows an important Diamond Ring, and an Aigrette set with topazes and a lot of beautiful Watches and Compasses.

In a few day, We’ll return with the second part of this article about the fascinating Royal Treasure Museum in Portugal!

This article was written by assistant editor, David Rato, who runs the Spanish Royal Jewels account on Instagram!


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