ELENA'S EMERALD AND DIAMOND NECKLACE
There has been a long tradition in the European royal families of offering the most beautiful jewels to one's spouse at the time of marriage. This is especially true when the wedding is a symbolic strengthening of the alliance between different countries. The present fabulous emerald and diamond necklace is one of those exceptional pieces of jewellery that can claim a prestigious list of owners from various parts of the world for almost 150 years.
Princess Hélène (1871-1951) was born into the Orléans family in 1871. Her father, Philippe d'Orléans (1838-1894), Count of Paris, was a direct descendant of Louis Philippe, King of France (1773-1850), and himself pretender to the throne. Of great elegance, Princess Hélène is rumoured to have been courted by some of the most important European heirs. She married Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Italy (1869-1931), Duke of Aosta, on 25 June 1895. The matrimony was a historic event in Europe, widely reported in the international press. Princess Hélène officially became S.A.R. la Principessa Elena di Francia, Duchessa d'Aosta.
On her wedding day, Elena d'Aosta received both a stunning emerald and diamond necklace, and an emerald and diamond tiara from her godfather, Henri d'Orléans, Duke of Aumale. Given the nature and importance of such European alliance, it is not surprising that the Duke of Aumale chose only the most spectacular gifts for his goddaughter. He was a renowned art collector, with a particularly prominent antique book collection: the Duke also was a passionate admirer and collector of important jewels. This necklace most probably comes from his personal collection. The exceptional quality of the emeralds and the delicate craftsmanship, typical of the early 19th century, shows obvious resembles with the jewellery made during the First Empire, by Nitot or Bapst, for Empress Joséphine. The design of the main pendant, in particular, is of the same style as the one hanging on the emerald necklace of Empress Joséphine parure, now owned by Queen Sonja of Norway.
During World War I, Elena d'Aosta got involved with the Italian Red Cross as a nurse. As time progressed she developed a passion for travels, and extensive accounts of her time in Africa are written in her published diaries. With Europe in political and social disarray, the fabulous emerald necklace was no longer worn in public and spent many years out of sight.
Following the war and at some point during the 20th century, the necklace changed hands, and is next seen as part of the equally prestigious collection of Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley, the daughter of Sir Edward Sassoon and Baroness Aline de Rothschild. The beautiful Sybil Sassoon was depicted numerous times wearing fabulous jewels by her friend, painter John Singer Sargent, who was a great admirer of hers. Miss Sassoon's collection included, amongst others, a spectacular sapphire parure from the French Crown jewels.
The fabulous emerald necklace and tiara, offered by the Duke of Aumale to his goddaughter Elena d'Aosta, were both in the Marchioness' collection. Upon her death in 1989, part of her jewellery was sold at Christie's.