‘To find any Fabergé tiara at auction today is rare,’ explains Angela Berden, Senior Jewellery Specialist at Christie’s in Geneva. ‘But to find one with such a delicate, grand design — and with such spectacular, well-documented royal provenance — is exceptionally rare.’
The royal Fabergé tiara in question was commissioned in 1904 by Germany’s Frederick Francis IV (1882-1945), Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, as a wedding gift for his bride-to-be, Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland (1882-1963). This historic headpiece has remained in the same royal family for more than a century, and will be offered for the first time at auction in the Magnificent Jewels sale on 15 May at Christie’s in Geneva.
The tiara is composed of nine graduated pear-shaped aquamarines and old, cushion- and rose-cut diamonds. ‘With its forget-me-not flowers tied with ribbon bows pierced by arrows representing cupid, the design signifies affection, attraction and true, eternal love,’ says Max Fawcett, Christie’s jewellery specialist in Geneva. ‘That it was a wedding gift makes it even more romantic and symbolic.’
The tiara is stylistically representative of the period. ‘The availability of this type of metal — most likely a special platinum alloy — enabled makers at the turn of the century to design for the first time delicate open-work structures that were very light but strong,’ explains Fawcett.
Then there is the tiara’s history, documented in archives from 1904 pertaining to its commissioning and purchase. The Grand Duke’s mother, Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia, was a keen Fabergé collector and encouraged her son to order his wife’s wedding present at her beloved Fabergé atelier in St Petersburg. Dated to 1904, correspondence between the Grand Ducal Cabinet of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Eugène Fabergé reveals how the Duke deliberated over the commission of an important jewel.
Two weeks before the wedding day Fabergé had still not received instructions from the Ducal Cabinet to proceed with the commission. ‘He was unable to finalise the tiara in time for the wedding,’ Berden explains. ‘But he did deliver this special wedding gift just a month later.’ The detailed description of Alexandra wearing an aquamarine tiara with a pink silk dress and pearl necklaces at a court ball on 8 July 1904, together with the later official portrait of her wearing it (above), are evidence of its safe arrival.
‘Hardly any Fabergé tiaras have been sold at auction,’ reveals Fawcett. ‘This makes us believe that not many were made; or, that not many have survived.’ Over the years, many antique tiaras with important stones have been remodelled into other pieces of more wearable jewellery, including necklaces or brooches.
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‘When an old piece stays together in its original form, collectors will pay a premium because it’s so rare,’ adds the specialist. ‘It's just brilliant to have one in great condition with such spectacular provenance: we are just thrilled to offer it at Christie’s, fresh-to-market after 100 years.’