Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the Death of Queen Elena of Italy, who passed away on this day in 1952! The Montenegrin Princess who became the second Italian Queen during the tumultuous first half of the 20th century, Queen Elena possessed the spectacular Jewels of the House of Savoy, but her most worn Jewel was Queen Margherita’s Savoy Knot Tiara!
Consisting of Diamonds, round Pearls and large pear-shaped Pearls, the Tiara is composed of Diamond Savoy Knots, intercepted with Pearls and topped with larger pear-shaped Pearls, and was created by the jeweller Musy around 1883, using funds from the Italian State Treasury rather than the House of Savoy, so it became a part of the Italian Crown Jewels. The Savoy Knot is the symbol of the House of Savoy along with the motto Stringe ma non costringe, “It tightens, but does not constrain”
The Savoy Knot Tiara was created for Queen Margherita, the first Queen of modern Italy, who was known as the ‘Queen of Pearls’ for the dozens of pearl necklaces she always wore, and she was photographed wearing the Tiara in numerous portraits, paintings, and State Occasions until King Umberto I’d assassination in 1900.
The Savoy Knot Tiara then passed to Queen Elena, who became the second Italian Queen, and was only pictured in the Savoy Knot Tiara on a handful of occasions in the first few years of King Victor Emmanuel III’s Reign, until Queen Elena gave her personal Jewels to fund the Italian War Effort when they joined the First World War in 1915.
Afterwards, Queen Elena only wore the Savoy Knot Tiara and necklaces from the Italian Crown Jewels for numerous portraits and paintings, as well as formal State events including the Wedding of Prince Philipp of Hesse and her daughter, Princess Mafalda of Savoy, in 1925, as well as for the Italian Royal Family’s visit to the Vatican to mark the signing of the the Lateran Treaty in 1929, ending the 60-year feud between the Vatican and the Kingdom of Italy.
Queen Elena also wore the Tiara for the Wedding of her only son, Crown Prince Umberto of Italy, to Princess Marie Jose of Belgium in 1930, and also likely for the Wedding of Tsar Boris of Bulgaria to her daughter, Princess Giovanna of Savoy, and the Wedding of her younger daughter, Princess Maria Francesca of Savoy, to Prince Luigi of Bourbon-Parma in 1939.
The Savoy Knot Tiara was also worn by Queen Elena for the Christening of the Prince of Naples in 1937 and at the Coronation of Pope Pius XII in 1939, as well as during the Yugoslavian State Visit in 1939. Though some members of the Royal Family wore Tiaras during the Second World War, there are no pictures that Queen Elena did wear jewels as well, and it is known that the Jewels were hidden in a tunnel in central Rome during the War, and then locked away in a safe at the Quirinale Palace.
In an effort to repair the monarchy’s image after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, King Victor Emmanuel transferred his powers to the Crown Prince in 1944, eventually abdicating in May 1946 right before a referendum on the monarchy the following month, following which Italy was declared a republic. Queen Marie José would have gotten the Crown Jewels but not had a chance to wear them in the month of the King’s reign, and while she took all the personal jewels of the House of Savoy into exile, the Crown Jewels remained with the King, who put them in a sealed case and deposited them in a vault at the Bank of Italy in Rome, with a note stating they should go to ‘whoever has the right to them’. The Crown Jewels consisted of the Savoy Knot Tiara along with a Diamond Swag Necklace, a Diamond Riviere, a large Diamond Chain Necklace, a Diamond Bow Brooch with a Pink Diamond, and various Brooches, Bracelets and loose stones.
However, no one has been able to decide who has a right to the jewels and they have remained at the Bank of Italy for the past 76 years. The case sat sealed and while members of the Royal Family were unable to return to Italy, in 1976, they were represented by agents when the case was opened in the presence of government and bank officials, legal experts and Giovanni Bulgari to confirm they had not been stolen. When Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, Prince of Naples, the son of King Umberto II, and his son and heir, the Prince of Venice, were allowed to return to Italy in 2002, they stated they would not lay any claims on the Jewels, saying “for that matter we have no claim on the Crown Jewels. We have nothing in Italy and we are not asking for anything,” though they did request for the Crown Jewel to be put on public display.
However, earlier this year, the Savoy Royal Family, led by the Prince of Naples and his sisters, Princess Maria Pia, Princess Maria Gabriella, and Princess Maria Beatrice, launched the first formal request to regain possession of the Italian Crown Jewels, saying:
The jewels kept at the Bank of Italy have never been donated, nor have they been confiscated. They are private jewels.
There is no such thing as Italian crown jewels; they were privately owned by my family.
The case remains ongoing