THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
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‘Princesse Lobanoff de Rostoff, née Princesse Dolgorouky’ - the name could hardly be more Russian! And it is, still to this day, associated with one of the most important private jewellery collections that was ever sold at auction. The ‘Lobanoff auction’, as it is now referred to, was held in Lausanne in January 1920, and the catalogue describes hundreds of natural pearls, diamonds and colored stones. The sale was a major success. However it is very difficult to find any historic details on the very discreet Princess. She was even forgotten in some genealogies of her own family, in which she simply does not appear.
It seems she was born in Russia in 1836 to one of the oldest Russian princely families: the Dolgorouky, from the Rurik dynasty, a family which was very close to the Romanovs. In 1858, Princess Wera Dolgorouky married a very rich man, Prince Jacques Lobanoff de Rostoff. Unfortunately, she became a widow only a few years later and had no children.
Being a very clever woman, she was one of the very few Russian aristocrats who understood the dangerous situation in which Russia was at the turn of the Century. Soon after the 1905 revolution was crushed by the police of Tsar Nicolas II, she decided to leave her country forever. She moved to Paris, in a magnificent hôtel particulier, and to Switzerland, in the villa ‘Zina’ in Vevey. At the same time, she started adding again and again to her already large jewellery collection. To her friends who were alarmed to see how many jewels she was buying, she simply said: "I am not wasting my fortune, I am building a second one.". And how right she was!
Princess Wera Lobanoff de Rostoff died in April 1919 and was buried in Paris in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery. Her tomb has been recently restored and the marble group which stands on it is now protected by thick panels of glass. Her secretary, Mr Charles Decker, was the executor of her estate and it is on his request that her jewels were sold, from 12th to 17th of January 1920, in Lausanne.
The most important piece of the collection was of course the Princess's three-row natural pearl necklace, but she also owned magnificent diamonds, an impressive drop-shaped natural pearl, three tiaras (all in diamonds) and many other jewels for a total of 280 lots. The present emerald cameo pendant, lot 234 of the original auction, was purchased at the time for the high price of 12,500 Swiss francs.
It reappeared more than 40 years later, in May 1964, in another auction, held by Galerie Jürg Stuker in Bern, as lot 20 from the collection of HRH Prince Nicholas of Romania, who might have inherited it from his mother, the legendary HM Queen Marie of Romania.
Here is this fabulous emerald cameo again, just shy of a Century after it left the collection of Princess Lobanoff de Rostoff for the first time. Its great size, amazing carving and legendary provenance make it one of those wonders of natures which are worthy of the most prestigious jewellery collections in the world.
Jewellery Historian, Author and Journalist