A collection of unique baubles from the estate of Patricia Knatchbull, also known as the 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, cousin to Prince Philip, the daughter of Britain’s last Viceroy to India or as the great-niece of Russia’s last Tsarina, is coming up for sale at Sotheby’s London next month. The late countess, with a long royal lineage, passed away in June of 2017 and 350 lots of jewels and important keepsakes will hit the block on March 24th. Several of the pieces had been passed down to the countess, after changing hands among her relatives over centuries, including a highlight of the sale, her great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria’s mourning jewels.
The Queen famously wore black every day for four decades after the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert on December 14, 1861. But she would also spend her life grieving over the passing of her mother and three of her children who passed before her. To accompany her noir ensembles, she wore the mourning brooches, buttons and pendants (below), which eventually made their way to Countess Mountbatten’s vault. Three of the pieces were created in the wake of the death of her third child, Alice, who died 17 years to the day of Albert’s passing. They include an onyx and seed pearl button with a miniature portrait of Princess Alice (estimate £1,000-£1,500 or $1,388-$2,083), an agate and pearl pendant with a lock of hair inscribed with “from Grandmama VR” (a gift to Alice’s daughter, Princess Victoria, estimate £1,000-£1,500 or $1,388-$2,083) and an enamel and diamond cross brooch with an onyx heart at its center featuring Alice beneath a coronet (estimate £2,000-£3,000 or $2,778-$4,167). The fourth piece of mourning jewelry in the lot, an agate and diamond pendant, was commissioned by Prince Albert himself, just before his death that same year, to commemorate the passing of Queen Victoria’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, also known as the Duchess of Kent (£1,000-£1,500 or $1,388-$2,083).
Despite being steeped in a forgotten tradition, the jewels look surprising modern in today’s context. However, many of these pieces double as lockets, containing pieces of hair from the Queen’s deceased loved ones, in keeping with the, now macabre-seeming, Victorian tradition of mourning jewels.
For those on the hunt for other quirky oddities, a ruby, diamond and gold mesh purse in the shape of a pig, designed by Lacloche Frères (estimate £2,000-£3,000 or $2,778-$4,167), is a decidedly more humorous proposition. Depending on how and where you wear it, this evening bag could carry myriad connotations—put your purse in there and does it become a piggy bank? Or there’s the Countess’s Girl Guide charm bracelet, featuring 10 enameled medallions with the organization’s insignia. Britain’s Girl Guides, founded in 1910 and now known as Girlguiding, is the U.K.-equivalent of America’s Girl Scouts.
But if you’re looking for a piece that more closely reflects a royal lifestyle, there are several “Tutti Frutti” Art Deco pieces worthy of a modern grande dame. The style, which emulated multi-colored gem designs from India, had a special place in the Countess’s heart as the last Vicereine of India. Tutti Frutti designs have been rising in price at auction over the last decade, particularly those from Cartier. Evelyn Lauder’s bracelet from the Parisian house, sold for a whopping $2.1 million at auction in 2014 and just last year Sotheby’s hit an online record when it sold another Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet for $1.3 million. Countess Mountbatten’s necklace, the highlight of the pieces in the Tutti Frutti style on offer, features a wreath of carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires accented with diamonds and sapphire beads. It is, however, an unsigned version (although it’s thought to have been made by Cartier) and is estimated between £40,000-£60,000 or $55,554-$83,332.
For Art Deco collectors, another piece is worthy of attention. A rock crystal, diamond and emerald octagonal link bracelet up for sale was designed by Hennell in 1929 (estimate £15,000-£20,000 or $20,8333-$27,777). The jeweler was known for creating stunning pieces during the era and was considered the British rival of Parisian houses Cartier and Boucheron, who are more widely known for capitalizing on the avant-garde style during that period and well into the 21st century. (Boucheron’s latest high-jewelry collection is a unisex tribute to the centennial of Art Deco.)
Speaking of unisex, in case you’ve missed recent celebrity red-carpet affairs or haven’t been following Harry Styles’ gender-bending ensembles, brooches are making a big comeback, not only for women but for men. And two diamond brooches in the lot would look right at home on either a masculine or feminine lapel. The diamond Maltese cross is said to be a symbol of protection, while the circular brooch is set with diamonds in a calming wave pattern. The latter was a gift to the Countess from her father Louis Mountbatten. Both are estimated between £4,000-£6,000 or $5,554-$8,332.
For the right price, you too, can bestow yourself with some crown jewels.