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5 minutes with… A Russian Princess’s emerald cameo

Specialist Max Fawcett reveals the intriguing story behind an unusually large and exquisitely detailed piece of jewellery, discovered unexpectedly in a European vault

‘We had no idea we were going to find a carved emerald of this age and size, with such remarkable history,’ says jewellery specialist Max Fawcett, recalling the moment he entered a vault in Europe and discovered an exceptional emerald cameo and rose-cut diamond brooch, thought to date from the late 19th century.

Archival research revealed the piece was originally owned by Princess Lobanov-Rostovsky, a well-known society figure and a member of Russia’s oldest royal dynasty. In 1858, she had married Prince Jacques Lobanoff de Rostoff, who died just two years later. She left for Paris in 1905, fleeing the country as the first Russian Revolution began. 

The princess was a prolific jewellery collector, and her travels through Europe became an opportunity to augment an ever-expanding collection of rare and unique pieces. ‘She added to her collection all the time,’ says Fawcett. ‘When friends expressed alarm at the amount the Princess bought, she replied, “I’m not wasting my fortune. I’m building a second one.”’


A historic emerald and diamond pendant. The emerald cameo in high relief depicting a female bust within a rose-cut diamond surround and detachable pendant hoop, mounting c. 1900, 6 cm. SFr60,000-80,000 ($60,000-80,000). This lot is offered in Geneva Magnificent Jewels on 15 November at Christie’s in Geneva

A historic emerald and diamond pendant. The emerald cameo in high relief depicting a female bust within a rose-cut diamond surround and detachable pendant hoop, mounting c. 1900, 6 cm. SFr60,000-80,000 ($60,000-80,000). This lot is offered in Geneva Magnificent Jewels on 15 November at Christie’s in Geneva

This brooch was an exceptional component of the Princess’s collection. Estimated at 120 carats, the emerald at its centre is ‘unusually large’ and perfectly preserved. Although the gemstone is notoriously difficult to carve, it features fine details including an elegantly-arching brow and curled locks of hair — each remaining intact after well over a century.

Defined as ‘portraits carved in relief’, cameos such as this often depicted figures of personal significance to their wearer. Although the subject of the Princess’s cameo is unknown, it is probable, Fawcett suggests, that the person meant a great deal to her. ‘It could represents a loved one, a religious figure, or a royal,’ he explains.

‘The piece is different and exciting,’ he continues. ‘It’s not something we see every day. If you were creating a top jewellery collection, it’s something you’d really want to have.’

Max Fawcett is Associate Specialist at Christie’s Geneva Jewellery Department. Should you wish to contact him to discuss the emerald cameo or any other lot in the sale please email mfawcett@christies.com or telephone: +4122 319 1738