Sotheby’s will be offering for sale the diamond necklace believed to have been made for Catherine the Great (1762-1765) and housed in the Imperial diamond state fund from 1760-1917. The auction house is calling the jewel “one of the most historically important jewels to have come onto the market in recent years,” and anticipates that it will sell for $1,176,000-1,960,600 during Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov. 17.
The diamond necklace with a detachable diamond bow clasp is a rare survivor of the 18th century, when jewels were usually broken up to produce new jewelry in the latest styles, Sotheby’s said. Its survival, in its original state, is almost unheard of outside royal or museum collections.
The necklace consists of a row of 27 large cushion-shaped diamonds within a border of stylized foliate motifs, close set with smaller similarly cut stones, embellished with a ribbon bow clasp, which can be worn separately.
In 1719 Peter I (1682-1725), known as ‘Peter the Great’ created The Russian State Diamond Fund to house a collection of jewels that would belong to the Russian state for the permanent glory of the Russian Empire. Peter demanded that each Empress or Emperor bequeath a certain number of pieces acquired during their reign to the state.
The collection was housed in the ‘Diamond Room’ in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Peter decreed that no piece could be sold, given away, or changed. A keeper was appointed and no jewels were ever taken out of the room without a written sealed order and only in the presence of a trustee especially appointed by His Imperial Majesty.
The fear of German invasion at the outbreak of the First World War led to move the collection to Moscow. The removal of the strong boxes was carried out in such haste that no inventory was taken on the collection. When the jewels arrived in Moscow they were confiscated and stored away until after the war. Then each piece was photographed, each stone weighed, and a value was attached to each jewel. A catalog entitled: Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones was published in 1925. This suggested that the Soviets wished to sell the collection. However, the decision, and the catalog, was later retracted. The first public exhibition of the jewels took place in Moscow in the same year.
A number of the jewels were sold to a syndicate of British and American buyers whose identity is unknown, the state retaining the more valuable items of the collection as part of Russia’s national heritage. A large portion of the collection was then brought to London and offered at auction in a sale entitled: The Russian State Jewels held by Christie Manson & Wood on March 16, 1927. Dispersed to a number of different buyers, some have subsequently resurfaced at public auction.