Property from the Collection of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
By Helen Molesworth
DURING A DRAMATIC THUNDERSTORM on the night of 21st August 1930 at Glamis Castle, a second daughter was born to T.R.H. The Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The birth of Princess Margaret Rose was the last royal birth in Britain legally required to be witnessed by a Minister of the Crown, and placed her fourth in line to the throne.
More significantly, however, it marked the arrival of the younger sister of the future Queen Elizabeth II and a beautiful Princess who would captivate the world for years to come. Charming, witty, stylish and sophisticated, with a naturally dazzling smile and piercing blue eyes, Princess Margaret was soon to become a 1950s fashion icon on the world stage.
Regularly featured in best dressed lists of the time, the Princess was the embodiment of royal elegance. Princess Margaret was also a gifted pianist and singer, a wonderful mimic and a dedicated patron of the arts throughout her life. In addition to her love of music and ballet, her artistic patronage is particularly notable in her personal collection of jewels dating from the 1960s and 1970s.
It demonstrates her acute eye and sense of style for unique creations from the workshops of such British 'craftsmen jewellers' of this period as Andrew Grima and John Donald. Occasionally, as with many of her outfits, the design of a jewel would involve her own personal input, such as the diamond set brooch cast by Andrew Grima in yellow gold in 1967 directly from the piece of lichen sent to him by Princess Margaret as a prototype.
Her love of the horticultural world is reflected throughout the collection and adds significance to her abundance of rose and marguerite jewels. Whether an important diamond rose brooch by Cartier or a simple 9 carat gold and cultured pearl daisy pin presented to commemorate the anniversary of Saint Margaret, the Princess treasured and wore each jewel with equal affection and panache.
Arguably the most visually significant and memorable moment in the Princess’s life was that of her wedding day, exquisitely symbolised in this collection by the 'Poltimore Tiara.'
Acquired on the advice of Patrick Plunkett, Deputy Master of the Household, before the official announcement of her engagement to Mr Antony Armstrong-Jones, the tiara had originally been created by Garrard in the 1870s for Florence, Lady Poltimore, the wife of the second Baron Poltimore.
The Princess wore the tiara in its form as a stunning diamond fringe necklace and scroll brooches on several occasions prior to her marriage; yet it was arriving at Westminster Abbey by horse-drawn carriage on 6th May 1960, with the Poltimore Tiara holding her veil in place as a circlet of diamonds around her hair, that Princess Margaret fulfilled an image that was the epitome of the fairytale princess.
As a member of arguably the most illustrious and noble family in the world, Princess Margaret’s collection is accentuated by important and historical royal inheritances. One of the most valuable items was a gift from Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, of one of her most impressive diamond rivières, accompanied by a series of handwritten notes naming the necklace after its previous owner as the 'Lady Mount Stephen'; yet perhaps the most touching is an Art Deco sapphire and diamond bar brooch personally annotated by Queen Mary, 'For darling Margaret on her confirmation day from her loving Grannie Mary R God bless you April 15th 1946'.
Queen Alexandra’s fan, presented to her by her sister Marie, Empress of Russia was given to Princess Margaret by Queen Mary in 1952. The painted fan is signed by Ch-Vuillemot and M. Dumas, and dates from the late 19th century.
Another important gift from Queen Mary in circa 1952 is the highlight of the silver section of this sale. A magnificent and extensive silver-gilt dressing table service in a brass-bound rosewood case with a card from Queen Mary is by Paul Storr, London 1837.
The service had belonged to a member of the royal Household who sold it privately to Queen Mary. Other antique silver includes a pair of silver-gilt wine coasters made in 1803 for the Royal goldsmiths and jewellers Rundell, Bridge and Rundell by the London goldsmiths Digby Scott and Benjamin Smith, who also made the pair of silver-gilt sauceboats of 1835 in the collection.
Representative of the very affectionate relationship Princess Margaret shared with King George VI is the Cartier 9 carat gold and sapphire cigarette case engraved 'To Margaret from her very devoted Papa GR Christmas 1949'; while an antique gem-set bee brooch, accompanied by a note in Princess Margaret's own hand, 'Almost first bit of jewelry given to Mum… Given to me 10th Feb. 1945', is an early and emotive gift from Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, to her youngest daughter.
Another delightful piece by Cartier is the cased set of five gold-mounted ebony dice in a fitted black crocodile case with the Princess’s monogram.
The Princessas did her grandmothervalued the work of Fabergé highly and there are a dozen wonderful pieces in the sale. A superb translucent mauve enamelled silver clock applied with gold decorative elements was a gift from Queen Mary. Another exceptional Fabergé green hardstone clock was originally purchased by Grand Duke Mikhailovich, grandson of Tsar Nicholas I, in 1914 for £65.
Other Fabergé pieces include an enchanting miniature hardstone carving of a squirrel and a fine Louis XVIII-style jewelled and enameled gold cigarette case, again purchased at Fabergé’s London shop on 21 November 1911 for £115. Gifts from Queen Mary also feature prominently in her granddaughter’s collection of furniture and works of art.
Included amongst the 150 lots is a French giltwood firescreen stamped with Queen Mary’s initial M and also marked with her Private Property inventory label. Other pieces of furniture similarly marked include the oak chair Queen Mary used at the Coronation of Princess Margaret’s parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary's Edwardian painted dressing table, and an Irish oak linen chest presented as a marriage gift in 1891 on the occasion of the wedding of Queen Mary and
King George V.
Important furniture in this sale includes a pair of 18 inch Regency terrestrial and celestial library globes by C & W Cary; other Regency pieces include a rosewood firescreen and a satinwood cheval mirror, both stamped with the inventory mark of King George IV and Brighton Pavilion and later recorded when removed to Buckingham Palace by Queen Victoria; and thereafter, marked with a private property label of King George VI when Duke of York.
The collection as a whole lends extraordinary insight into the life of a member of the Royal Family; both for its breadth in style and value, and also as a touching collection of pieces that were presented to, inherited and personally acquired by H.R.H. The Princess Margaret.
In offering one of the most personal, extensive and historic Royal collections ever to be sold at auction, Christie’s are privileged to be paying tribute not only to the sister of Her Majesty the Queen, but also to one of the most beautiful, captivating and glamorous Princesses in history.
Helen Molesworth, Specialist, Jewellery Department, London