West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
from Tsars to Maharajahs
of the lecture given by Joanna Hardy
on March 25th 2015
Joanna began by explaining that the wearing of jewels
was about the person wearing them rather than simply the value of the
jewels. The jewels told the world I am rich, I am an important
person and I have high status. The jewels worn on the head were
particularly significant as they represented the crowning of the person
above their centre of intellect and the head is considered to be closer
We are all familiar with the laurel leaf crown as worn by Apollo, which
was often used as inspiration for goldsmiths in the future. Other
materials such as porcupine quills, mammoth tusks were used as well as
precious stones. If the materials used were in short supply or
more difficult to obtain they were perceived as very valuable - a crown
made of sea shells in the middle of a desert was highly prized.
It is amazing the distances travelled, in more primitive times, to
obtain precious materials and stones. For example the French merchant
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689) made at least six trips to India
to get diamonds.
Cleopatra was in a desirable position in that Egypt had a good supply
of gold and precious stones such as emeralds, which was fortunate
because she liked to adorn herself and her possessions such as sedan
chairs, furniture etc. The Egyptian Royal family employed many
goldsmiths as slaves with a constant list of demands and it appears
that the gold was often recycled and the precious stones put into
We have all seen many pictures of the Tutankhamen death mask and all
his extravagant grave goods, items that were considered essential for
him to take into his next life.
Joanna showed us many
slides of Royal jewellery.
This 2000 year old crown from Afghanistan,
which was for a female child and could be folded when not in
use came from tomb VI on the Tillya
Tepe site. The hoard
contained over 20,600 gold ornaments.
Empress Theodora, the Byzantine wife of Justinian I was so influential
and possessive of her jewels she declared that no one other than the
royal family was allowed to wear them.
The Munich Residenz has a good collection of Bavarian
were collected by the Bavarian rulers over the centuries. One of
the most outstanding pieces is the crown of Henry II in the early tenth
century. Another was made by the court jewellers of Napoleon
for the Queen of Bavaria using huge natural pearls. Formed from calcium
carbonate, they are the protection the oyster lays down
to surround an irritant inside its shell. Joanna told us
that if we wave at our pearls and we can see the wave it means that the
pearls are of a good quality.
Another Bavarian royal
crown used this famous large blue diamond of 31.06
carats, the Wittelsbach Graff diamond. It was mined in India
and set on
the top of the crown. The diamond had a large hole in the centre
and it has been used and recut many times. One lady even put a portrait
in the hole.
Another famous diamond to come from India is Le blue de France or the
King’s jewel, now known as the Hope
diamond, 45.52 carats; which
is supposedly cursed. It has had a long history but
at one time it was worn by the Sun King Louis 14th. He
headed an extravagant and well-adorned court, although paste or glass
jewellery was sometimes used. This diamond has been recut several times, a
notoriously difficult procedure, as large diamonds are likely to
shatter unless great skill is used in
Marie de Medicis (1575-1642) wore the Beau
Sancy 34.98 carats –
a pear-cut double rose diamond also originating in India.
Napoleon chose a double diamond pear-shaped ring as his
engagement ring for Josephine. There was a magnificent
array of diamond tiaras at his coronation. Napoleon also favoured
fashion of inserting cameos into crowns and jewellery. Large
elaborate chests were built to house Josephine's
vast collection of jewellery.
The Russian Royal family did not stint on their finery. A good
is the crown of Catherine The Great sporting a large red stone which is
not a ruby but a spinel. Fabergé, with his close connection to
the Russian royal family, was
responsible for a lot more than just decorated eggs. He was a
rather than a maker and he employed 500 craftsmen producing work of the
highest standard. He designed 50 eggs in total over 31 years; 42
of which have survived but 7 are still missing. They are worth a
fortune if you can find one!
The Maharajahs in the title were well renowned for
adornments. The Maharajah of Patiala was known for travelling
trunks of jewellery and he had 148 necklaces made to accommodate his
Joanna told us the story of Anita
Delgado a flamenco
dancer who caught the eye of Maharajah Sir Jagatjit Singh of
became his fifth wife and was blessed with many expensive jewels
including an exquisite emerald necklace.
Joanna's talk was wide-ranging and I have not yet touched on her references to the jewels of our own
Royal family. A notable recent example here is the tiara worn by
Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, on her wedding
day. This was made for the Queen Mother in 1936. It has 739
brilliant cut diamond and 149 baguette cut diamonds. A radiant bride