Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Princess Marina's Bow Brooch

Princess Marina's Bow Brooch. A gorgeous Russian heirloom
given to the Princess by her mother, Duchess Elena Vladimirovna.
Sotheby's describes the brooch as a "double ribbon bow" which
features over 100 carats in diamonds.

The story of Princess Marina's bow brooch begins in Russia (at least in light of the historical record I have access to). According to Stefano Papi, who has written a number of notable jewelry tomes (including Jewels of the Romanovs, Family and Court), he has seen photographs of the Duchess Elena Vladimirovna wearing the bow brooch.{1}

Duchess Elena, daughter of Maria Pavlovna (another of Russia's most famous jewelry collectors), is Princess Marina's mother. According to Mr. Papi, this bow brooch, along with many other pieces which belonged to Maria Pavlovna, was one of the very few pieces of Romanov jewelry that made it out of Russia intact after (or during) the Russian Revolution.{2}

Several stories relate how the bow brooch might have made its way into Princess Marina's collection. Cecil Beaton, whose admiration for Princess Marina is documented in the book Cecil Beaton Portraits and Profiles (2004), wrote also in another collection of memoirs that Princess Marina shared with him that her mother received the bow brooch from Czar Nicholas II.{3} Czar Nicholas II was Elena's cousin.

Other sources report that Maria Pavlova gave it to her daughter, Elena, from her own collection. Neither story has been verified in an official way. We know for sure, though, that Princess Marina's bow brooch was given to her by her mother, Elena. The Princess wore it often and prominently for many portraits and to many state occasions. Several of Cecil Beaton's photographs of the Princess show her wearing the brooch.

It's clear why it became one of the Princess's favorites. A sensual bow that, for all its hardness in platinum and diamonds, is reported by Lisa Hubbard of Sotheby's as exhibiting to the eye "the softness of [the] velvet, satin, and lace bows" of the 19th century.{4}

In their 2012 catalog, Sotheby's describes the historic brooch as a "double ribbon bow centered by an oval-shaped diamond weighing approximately 3.50 carats, accented by numerous pear-shaped and old mine-cut diamonds weighing approximately 38.00 carats, further set with numerous old mine and rose-cut diamonds weighing approximately 64.25 carats..."{5}

The bow brooch was featured in their 2012 auction, Magnificent Jewel from the Collection of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman. How it came to belong to Mrs. Wrightsman is unknown to the public at this time. However, it is no secret that after Prince George died, leaving Princess Marina a bereft widow at the tender age of 36, the court laws of Britain made it hard for the Princess to make ends meet for herself and her four children.

Princess Marina was well loved and continued for the rest of her years to serve her adopted country faithfully. She was provided a comfortable place to live and meaningful work to engage in, but she resorted on more than one occasion to auctioning off pieces of her estate in order to keep food on the table.{6}

Continuing into the 1970s, after her death, the Princess's children continued to occasionally auction pieces off pieces of her collection.{7} The public record does not indicate precisely when Mrs. Wrightsman acquired the brooch, but I like to imagine a private tea party between the two very noble ladies in which Mrs. Wrightsman made Princess Marina an offer she could not refuse for what must have been a very hard piece with which to part.

I'm sure it was more clinical than that, having more likely been acquired after the Princess's death in a bustling salesroom at a prestigious auction house. But we storytellers are allowed some latitude to at least dream, aren't we?

In 2012, Princess Marina's bow brooch was auctioned publicly through Sotheby's. Today, it belongs to another anonymous collector. This individual (or perhaps it was a company) purchased the jewel for $842,500, more than twice its material estimate.

And so once again, the delectable bow brooch has disappeared behind the heavy doors of a vault or the priceless doors of a palace or mansion. It now belongs to another history maker, and we must wait...wondering when we will once again see on public view the beautiful piece of jeweled artistry that survived several momentous world events.

~Angela Magnotti Andrews


  1. Hubbard, Lisa. "An Historic Russian Imperial Jewel From the Collection of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman," Sotheby's All That Glitters Blog, October 25, 2012.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Sotheby's. "Silver-Topped-Gold and Diamond Bow Brooch, Circa 1850," ecatalogue, 2012.
  6. "Wedding Wednesday: Princess Marina's Gown," The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor blog, October 31, 2012.
  7. Ibid.

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