Sunday, January 26, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte's Rubies

Anno 1953 when Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium tied the knot with Luxembourg's Hereditary Grand Duke Jean it was another day and age, a day and age in which a princess about to the marry the heir to a throne would be showered with jewellery by those near and dear to her as well as some unexpected sources such as companies, colonies and more. From her father, King Léopold III of Belgium, the bride received a set of rubies consisting of earrings and a brooch in floral designs as well as a bracelet composed of three lines of oval rubies spaced by collet-set brilliant-cut diamonds and highlighted with brilliant-cut as well as baguette diamond links mounted in platinum. (At least that is what they were described as during the proposed auction in 2006 while Christophe Vachaudez writes in his book Bijoux des reines et princesses de Belgique that the brooch and earrings were gifts by Grand Duke Jean.)
Made by French jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte wore the pieces of her ruby set both individually and in it's entirety many times during her life, especially during the early years of her marriage when it was still normal for royal ladies to bust out the bling on a regular basis for events during the evening hours while it usually only gets a spin for gala events these days. The flower motif used was a very popular during the 1950's and Van Cleef & Arpels made the same earrings and brooch also with other stones such as sapphires. Like most of her personal jewels, the ruby set ended up as part as of a proposed auction in 2006.

As they were personal property, the Grand Ducal Family had of course every right to sell the late Grand Duchess' jewellery but what they probably didn't expect was the public backlash the planned sale received. Old stories of a strained relationship between Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte and her daughter-in-law Grand Duchess Maria Teresa resurfaced and rumours of tensions between the siblings and in-laws evolved. In addition, the finances of the Grand Ducal Family as a whole as well as judgement by individual members (or lack thereof) were questioned. To cut a long story short: Everything that a reigning royal family does not want to have questioned was suddenly a point of discussion and resulted in the cancellation of the auction. While the cancellation saved many other prominent pieces of the Grand Ducal Family which we regularly see to this day, it did not save the rubies from ending up on the auction block. Just like a number of other smaller pieces of jewellery, the rubies were sold at later points in time, just in quieter fashion like last week.

In January 2009, the ruby set popped up at a Sotheby's jewellery auction in Switzerland. Described as the property of a European collector, the brooch was sold at a price of 14,800 euros (estimated between 11,800 and 18,500 euros) and the earrings, estimated between 15,100 and 21,700 euros, found a new owner for 22,200 euros. Estimated between 36,800 and 50,000 euros and also described as the property of a "European gentleman", the bracelet did not sell.

A few months later it was put up on auction in Geneva again, this time by a "European lady". After the estimation had been lowered to between 23,400 and 36,800 euros, it did sell at a price of 57,870 euros. In difference to the first auction in which it failed to sell, the royal provenance of the bracelet was mentioned this second time around. Some pieces of the set were purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels and are now part of the jeweller's collection.

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