In the ongoing series about gemstones, this post will be about the sapphire which is a type of mineral corundum consisting of aluminium oxide. The precious gemstone is typically blue in color but a rare type, known as a padparadscha sapphire, is pink-orange in color. The sapphire is the birthstone of the month of September. The gemstone has come to symbolize nobility, truth and fidelity and it is believed that the sapphire brings the wearer wealth and protection from envy.
In this post, I will discuss eight famous sapphires including those of royalty, such as the engagement ring of Josephine Bonaparte the wife of Emperor Napoleon, a tiara and brooch worn by Queen Victoria and the engagement ring of Princess Diana which is now worn by Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge.
Star of Bombay Sapphire
The Star of Bombay is a 182 carat cabochon star sapphire from Sri Lanka, it is violet-blue in color caused by the presence of titanium and iron which give it the blue color and vanadium which gives it a violet back color. The Star of Bombay would eventually be purchased by the famous silent film star Douglas Fairbanks as a present for his wife and actress Mary Pickford. After her death in 1979, the gemstone was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History located in Washington D.C. and can be seen in the Hall of Gems and Minerals.
Star of Bombay Sapphire
The Logan Sapphire is another sapphire originating from a mine in Sri Lanka; it is medium blue in color with excellent clarity and measures 423 carats. The sapphire was first owned by a maharajah in India and then Sir Ellice Victor Sassoon, the third Baronet of Bombay. Then in 1952, Col. M. Robert Guggenheim purchased the sapphire as a gift for his wife, Rebecca. After Mr. Guggenheim’s death in 1959 the decision was made to donate the sapphire to the Smithsonian Institute. Meanwhile, when Rebecca remarried in 1962 to John Logan the gemstone then became known as the Logan Sapphire. In 1971 the sapphire was finally given to the Smithsonian mounted in a silver and gold brooch setting which is framed by twenty round brilliant cut diamonds totaling approximately 16 carats. Considered the heaviest set gemstone in the collection, it is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History located in Washington D.C.
Heart of the Ocean necklace from the Titanic movie
The next sapphire I will discuss was a stunning necklace known as the Heart of the Ocean from the 1997 movie “Titanic” and I am mentioning it in this post because it is one of the most famous sapphires in recent times. In the movie the character of Rose is given the necklace by her fiancé but it was thought that the necklace was lost when the Titanic sank. Later in the movie it is revealed that Rose had found the necklace in the pocket of the coat she was wearing when she was rescued. Special Note: I won’t give away the story of what happened in the end to the Heart of the Ocean necklace and you will just have to watch the movie!
The Heart of the Ocean necklace in the movie was supposed to be a 171 carat heart-shaped Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 103 diamonds and set in platinum. In fact, the prop necklace was made by Asprey & Garrard and features a large blue cubic zirconia to simulate the sapphire and clear cubic zirconia to simulate the diamonds set in white gold.
After the success of the Titanic film, the Asprey & Garrard Jewelers created a replica of the Heart of the Ocean necklace made with a 171 carat sapphire shaped in a heart surrounded by 103 diamonds set in platinum. It was donated to Sotheby’s for an auction with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. This version of the Heart of the Ocean necklace was eventually donated to the Shipwreck Treasure Museum located in Charleston, Cornwall in England where it can be currently seen on display.
Heart of the Ocean necklace
Heart of the Ocean necklace worn by Kate Winslet in the Titanic movie
(for more information about the Titanic movie costumes, please click on the link)
Special Note: The international renowned singer Celine Dion, who performs the Titanic movie theme song “My Heart Will Go On”, wore the replica of the Heart of the Ocean necklace when she attended the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony; the song won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year.
Napoléon’s Engagement Ring for Joséphine
The next sapphire I will discuss in this post is the first of two royal engagement rings on my list of famous sapphires. At the time of their meeting in 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte was engaged to another woman but quickly became smitten with Josephine de Beauharnais who was previously married and a recent widow. Napoleon proposed to Josephine giving her a romantic sapphire and diamond toi et moi ring (meaning “you and me” in French and refers to a ring set with two gemstones side by side symbolizing two souls becoming one), the two pear-shaped stones each weighed just under one carat. The couple married in 1796, but their relationship eventually faltered when both were unfaithful and, after Napoleon became emperor, Josephine’s failure to provide him with an heir and they would divorce 1810.
The engagement ring remained within the Bonaparte family for several generations until 2013 when Osenat, a French auction house, sold it as part of the possessions belonging to Victor, Prince Napoleon (the grandson of Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte) and his wife, Princess Clementine of Belgium. In the end, the ring sold for almost $950,000 which was far above the estimated price perhaps due to the historical connection with the French Nobility.
Josephine Bonaparte engagement ring
photo from the Osenat Auction
The Stuart Sapphire historically has an uncertain past, it is thought to have been originally owned by King Charles II of England and when his King James VII fled to France it is believed that he took the gemstone. The large sapphire was inherited by his son, James Stuart and then went to his son, Henry Benedict who wore it in his mitre as Cardinal York. The sapphire was eventually purchased by King George III in 1807 and set into the Imperial State Crown which would later be worn in an altered version by Queen Victoria for her coronation in 1838.
The Stuart Sapphire weighs 104 carats and is slightly oval in shape measuring approximately 1.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. It was originally set in the front of the Imperial State Crown until the acquisition of the Cullinan II diamond and then the Stuart Sapphire was moved to the back for the 1937 coronation of King George VI. This is version of the Imperial State Crown which was slightly altered for the current Queen Elizabeth II, she wore the crown when leaving Westminster Abbey on her coronation day in 1953 and will traditionally wear the Imperial State Crown at the State Opening of Parliament. Special Note: When not in use, the Imperial State Crown is on display at the Tower of London with the impression collection of the Crown Jewels.
Stuart Sapphire set in back and at the bottom of the Imperial State Crown
the Stuart Sapphire
Princess Diana / Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge engagement ring
The second engagement ring on my list of famous sapphires was worn by two British Royal brides. On February 24, 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer appeared at Buckingham Palace to officially announce their engagement. Diana’s engagement ring was made by the Crown jewelers Garrard and featured a 12 carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire that was encircled by 14 diamonds and set in 18 carat white gold. Prince Charles and Diana were married on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. Special Note: Unfortunately the couple separated in 1992 with the divorce finalized in 1996, sadly Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident in Paris in 1997.
Almost thirty years later, on November 16, 2010 Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. In a very sentimental gesture, Prince William proposed with the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that had once belonged to his mother, Princess Diana. Prince William and Catherine were married on April 29, 2011 at Westminster Abbey in London, England.
sapphire and diamond engagement ring worn by
Princess Diana and later Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge
Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch
Prince Albert commissioned a brooch as a wedding present for Queen Victoria which she wore on the bodice of her bridal dress on the day of their wedding. The ceremony took place on February 10, 1840 at the Chapel Royal in St. James Palace. The stunning brooch became known as the Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch and it featured a large oblong sapphire (the size has never been revealed to the public) set in gold and surrounded by 12 round diamonds. It was a treasured gift from her beloved husband and Queen Victoria wore it frequently until Prince Albert’s death in1861.
Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch
Queen Victoria wearing the Prince Albert brooch on the bodice of her dress
Franz Winterhalter painting from the Royal Collection
After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch remained within the British Royal Collection and has been worn throughout the following years by Queen Alexandra (she wore the brooch for her husband, King Edward VII, coronation day in 1902), Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II. The Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch is a favorite of the current Queen and she will usually wear it on her left shoulder to compliment a blue dress. Most notably she wore it for a dinner with President and Mrs. Kennedy in 1961 and the christening of her grandson Prince William in 1982.
Queen Elizabeth wearing the Prince of Albert brooch
Queen Victoria diamond and sapphire tiara
Prince Albert commissioned jeweler Joseph Kitching and personally designed a sapphire and diamond tiara to match the wedding brooch he had given Queen Victoria in 1840. The tiara is mounted with diamonds set in silver and features 11 sapphires set in gold, the piece is engineered to be fully adjustable to accommodate a closed coronet style or an open style to be worn as a tiara.
Queen Victoria diamond and sapphire coronet/tiara
The first photo shown below is of a young Queen Victoria wearing the piece on the back of her head as a coronet for a portrait by Franz Winterhalter in 1842. The second photo shown below is of an older Queen Victoria wearing the piece as a tiara on the top of her head for a portrait by Henry Graves in1874.
a young Queen Victoria wearing the sapphire and diamond piece as a coronet
Franz Winterhalter painting from the Royal Collection Trust
an older Queen Victoria
wearing the sapphire and diamond piece as a tiara on the top of her head
Henry Graves painting from the Royal Collection Trust
After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the sapphire and diamond coronet/tiara was inherited by Queen Alexandra. Then, through the next years the piece was inherited by several members of the British Royal family, it went to Queen Mary and in 1922 it was given to her daughter, Princess Mary upon her marriage to Henry Lascelles, Earl of Harewood. The piece was then inherited by her son George Lascelles the 7th Earl of Harewood in 1965 and then his son David Lascelles, the 8th Earl of Harewood in 2011.
In 2016, a London Jewelry dealer had attempted to sell the sapphire and diamond coronet/tiara to a foreign buyer. When this was brought to the attention of the United Kingdom Culture Minister the sale was stopped and a temporary export ban was put upon this important historical British Royal piece to prevent it from leaving the country.
As it was hoped, a private buyer, William and Judith Bollinger, purchased the piece in 2017 and it was promptly donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. In 2019, upon the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the piece was put on permanent display in the museum as the centerpiece of the new Bollinger Gallery.
So, this ends the post regarding my list of the eight most famous sapphires. As a special note, a piece of sapphire jewelry would make a very meaningful gift for a September born bride or a bride marrying in the month of September.