Today marks the 125th Anniversary of the Death of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was assassinated on this day in 1898! The stunning Bavarian Duchess who became a glamorous and restless Empress before being tragically assassinated, Empress Elisabeth of Austria possessed some spectacular jewels, which included her iconic Diamond Stars and the heirloom Habsburg Ruby Parure!
Ahead of the ill-fated Flight to Varennes in 1791, Queen Marie Antoinette packed all her Jewels, save for a suite of Pearls and a pair of Diamond Earrings, which were smuggled by her hairdresser and sent with the Duke de Choiseul to her sister in Brussels. It wasn’t until 1794, a few months after the Queen’s execution, that Emperor Francis II of Austria ordered the chest to be opened, inventoried and sent to the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, where, in 1796, it was handed over to Princess Marie-Therese, the Madame Royale, who received the jewels after her long imprisonment as the sole surviving member of her family. However, Madame Royale soon sold Queen Marie Antoinette’s Rubies, most of which were probably spinels, to Emperor Francis II, and from them on, they became a part of the Imperial Treasury, though remained privately owned, separate from State Property.
When Emperor Franz Joseph was marrying Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria in 1854, he commissioned the Court Jeweler Biedermann to create a new Parure using Queen Marie Antoinette’s Rubies as a wedding gift for his bride. In 1864, Empress Elisabeth commissioned the jeweller Alexander Töpfert to make the Tiara more flexible, allowing the individual pieces to be worn separately as brooches and pins, so the Tiara could be worn in different small and large versions as well as only as the looped scroll without the ruby and diamond flowers. The Tiara was again altered by Töpfert in 1879.
Around 1879, Empress Elisabeth was depicted in the magnificent Habsburg Ruby Parure in a portrait by George Saab, which is on display at the Schönbrunn Palace. The Empress is depicted wearing a Tiara, a magnificent necklace suspended on a velvet band, a massive corsage brooch and two additional brooches.
Several portraits of Empress Elisabeth wearing the Habsburg Ruby Parure have been reproduced using the George Saab painting as a guide. Following the Empress’ assassination in Switzerland, the Habsburg Ruby Parure remained in the Imperial Treasury though her personal jewellery collection was auctioned off for charity, with one some of her legendary Diamond Stars remaining with her descendants.
Towards the end of the First World War and the abolition of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Court Chamberlain Count Bechthold when to the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, where he retrieved jewellery privately owned by the Imperial Family, which were then transported to Switzerland and deposited in the Swiss National Bank in Zurich.
The transportation of the jewellery caused a furore and the nationalization of the property of the House of Habsburg, so Emperor Karl and Empress Zita consulted a former financial advisor, who sold some jewels and deposited others as collateral for a loan in an attempt to restore the monarchy in Hungary in October 1921. When that attempt failed, the Emperor was exiled and the advisor retrieved the jewels, and disappeared. It wasn’t until Empress Zita returned to Switzerland the following year that she discovered the disappearance of the Jewels, the fate of which remains unknown to this day.
A replica of the Habsburg Ruby Parure is on display in the Sissi Museum at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.