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Sotheby’s Auction To Include Pieces From Queen Victoria’s Jewelry Box


Publicity-wise, Britain’s current royal family has arguably had better months, but this Wednesday’s Family Collection of the Late Countess Mountbatten of Burma sale at Sotheby’s London directs our attention to what some consider a more hallowed era of the monarchy. The 56 lots that fall in the jewelry category will be uniquely appealing to collectors who prioritize provenance above all else, and collectively they present an exciting opportunity to acquire jewels that exchanged hands among top-shelf royal and royal-adjacent personalities.

Born in 1924, Patricia Edwina Victoria Mountbatten was the 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, first cousin to Prince Philip (whose surname was Mountbatten before he married Queen Elizabeth II), daughter of Britain’s last viceroy of India, and great niece of Russia’s last tsarina. The jewelry items in the sale span multiple time periods and design movements, including several glamorous art deco diamond creations belonging to the countess’ mother, Edwina Ashley.

But a clear standout is a collection of memento mori belonging to Queen Victoria (Countess Mountbatten’s great-great-grandmother).

It was of course Queen Victoria who originally popularized the wearing of charms, trinkets, and all manner of symbolic bibelots, a practice that has drifted in and out of the jewelry trend file ever since.

Over the course of her long reign, Queen Victoria suffered many losses, spending decades mourning not only the death of her husband, Albert, but also of her mother and three of her children. During this time, she adorned herself in black crepe and wearable tributes to her loved ones. Victoria set the example for the ladies at court and was such an admired public figure that mourning jewelry soon became fashionable.

As for the mourning jewelry in the sale, what these precious heirlooms lack in scale and grandeur they more than make up for in sentimental valuefirst and foremost to the late queen, who commissioned or received them, but hopefully by proxy for the new owner. As specific as the pieces are, they are weirdly very chic and wearable in a modern-day context. Which kind of turns the frown upside down, if you will.

Here’s a closer look at the Queen Victoria jewels on offer and the stories baked into the provenance of each one.

The locket below was commissioned by Prince Albert as a mourning jewel on the death of the queen’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later Duchess of Kent.

Sothebys Mountbatten oval banded agate with diamond locket
Oval locket made in banded agate, with a cushion-shape diamond framed in a star border, opening to reveal a miniature photograph of the Duchess of Kent and a lock of hair. The reverse bears the inscription “Dear Mama b. Aug 17 1786 | from Albert in remembrance of March 16 1861 | Du warst uns Freud und Glück [You were our joy and happiness]”].
Here, a cross signed by jeweler Robert Phillips that was possibly commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate the death of Princess Alice in 1878; she was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Sothebys Mountbatten Alice pendant
Alice cross in black and white enamel, banded agate trefoils set with cushion-cut diamonds, and onyx heart set with rose-cut diamonds; the reverse has a glazed compartment containing a lock of hair and the inscription “Dear Alice 14th December 1878.”

Commissioned by Queen Victoria, this pendant served as a mourning jewel on the death of her daughter Princess Alice and granddaughter Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine.

Southebys Mountbatten oval agate pearl pendant
Pendant centering a pearl on banded agate; the reverse has a glazed compartment containing a lock of hair and the inscription “16th Nov & 14th Dec 1878 From Grandmama VR”.

A button pin dating from 1879, possibly given by Queen Victoria to her youngest son, Prince Leopold, on his 26th birthday in remembrance of his late sister Princess Alice.

Sothebys Mountbatten button
Onyx button with the initial “A” set with seed pearls that opens to reveal a portrait miniature of Princess Alice; the reverse is inscribed “From Mama VRI 7th April 1879”.

Top: No, this necklace did not belong to Queen Victoria, but it’s much brighter and livelier than the lugubrious mourning jewels, and too impressive not to show. Dating from the 1950s, it’s an articulated wreath of carved rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, accented by collet-set circular-cut diamonds and sapphire beads inset with single-cut diamonds. The Family Collection of the Late Countess Mountbatten of Burma sale is currently open for bidding; the live Sotheby’s London event will take place this Wednesday at 10 a.m. GMT.

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Amy Elliott

By: Amy Elliott

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