The so-called Royal Hesse Jubilee Brooch, which was a gift to Queen Victoria from her grandchildren on her Diamond Jubilee, was a favourite jewel of Elizabeth II and has been worn by Queen Camilla.
The Hesse jewel includes in its design of diamonds and sapphires the Slavonic number 60 within the central motif of a heart. It was given to Victoria by the emperor Nicholas II and the empress Alexandra Feodorovna and other grandchildren on June 23, 1897.
The pencil on card drawing, which would have been used at the bench, is part of the Holmström archive that was famously acquired by Wartski owner Kenneth Snowman (1919-2002) in the 1980s.
The ‘lost’ albums of hundreds of drawings from the workshop of Fabergé’s chief jewellers, the Holmström family, had been taken to Latvia after the Russian revolution and then to Ohio in the US. The archive is invaluable for making cast-iron attributions to the Holmström workshop.
The discovery of the significance of this particular drawing was made by Wartski’s specialist Thomas Holman. He came across it when conducting research for another piece and - recalling the famous royal jewel - “put two and two together”. It is a near-perfect match for the finished brooch that was made as a very personal gift to the 78-year-old Victoria.
Split the bill
The Russian imperial cabinet papers contain the Fabergé invoice for the jewel dated May 29, 1897. Different amounts were paid by four contributors towards the price of 1000 roubles. A note in Empress Alexandra’s hand shows that she and Nicholas II paid 400 roubles, Grand Duchess Ella and Grand Duke Sergei contributed 300 roubles while Grand Duke Ernest Louis and the Duchess of Hesse (200 roubles), and Princess Victoria and the Prince of Battenberg (100 roubles), made up the numbers.
The drawing suggests the brooch was originally designed to include two drop-shaped pearls, although these were replaced by three blue sapphires provided by Nicholas and Alexandra from their collection.