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The origins of Queen Victoria’s wedding brooch

Queen Victoria's wedding brooch. Image courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Victoria’s wedding brooch, also known as Prince Albert’s sapphire brooch, is perhaps one of the most famous jewels. The large sapphire surrounded by 12 brilliants was given by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria on the eve of their wedding and was worn by the Queen on their wedding day. 

Until now, nothing could be said for certain about its background: did Albert, who wasn’t rich himself, acquire it? Where was it bought? 

Both questions are now answered.

Theo Toebosch’ 2010 book Uitverkoren zondebokken (‘Chosen scapegoats’) details minutely the sale process between the Amsterdam based jeweller Wolf Josephus Jitta and Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince Albert’s father, of a fermoir (a clasp/fastener often used as brooch) consisting of a very large sapphire surrounded by 12 brilliants. This sale happened right after the announcement of the engagement between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It is known that a similar, smaller brooch was acquired as well; even the sale of this jewel is likely mentioned in the correspondence. 

Those with an interest in royal jewels might know the name Josephus Jitta from the diamond bandeau and diamond devant de corsage nowadays worn by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. The commission to deliver this national wedding present to the young Queen Emma of the Netherlands in 1879 was awarded to the jewellery firms W. Josephus Jitta and Sons and to D. and J. Mendes of Amsterdam.[1] The jewellers Van Praag Brothers, who also set the diamonds of both jewels, designed the devant de corsage[2] which has a central brilliant of 50 carat.  

Top of their trade

In reality, the Amsterdam Jewish family Josephus Jitta was a much more important family of jewellers than just this one fact. Being in the trade since the late 18th century, the family became Court Jewellers to King William II and Queen Anna and King William III and Queen Sophia of the Netherlands, Queen Olga of Württemberg, Emperor Napoleon III of France, his cousin Princess Mathilde and Grand Duke Constantine of Russia. In 1843 Jitta sold two important diamonds (a colourless 21,25 carat oblong brilliant and a 14 carat pink oblong brilliant) for 130.000 Francs to the exiled Duke of Brunswick. After Queen Sophia’s death, Joseph Josephus Jitta was tasked with making the inventory of her jewellery.

In fact, the Jitta family of jewellers functioned at the international top of their trade, as shows the following anecdote. Le Figaro reported from an international convention happening in Stuttgart in 1857: ‘But when, by any chance, there is a conference or a meeting of sovereigns in Europe, they quickly bring their richest jewellery boxes, making the eyes of the sovereigns and princesses glitter with necklaces and fine pearls, riches that can’t be acquired by anyone else than the crowned heads. […] At the gathering in Stuttgart, I encountered 3 of the principal diamond merchants of Europe: Mr. Halphen of Paris, the astronomer-lapidary who discovered the Star of the South in the firmament of fine stones; M. Beaugrand, of the Rue de la Paix, who didn’t come to Stuttgart to study the matter of the Principalities; Mr. Joseph Josephus Jitta, Court Jeweller of the Netherlands and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, residing in Amsterdam. The ambition of these gentlemen was to be presented to one of the sovereigns that held full court in Stuttgart.’[3]

The correspondence

50 pages of correspondence between Wolf Josephus Jitta and the ducal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha are stored in the Staatsarchiv Coburg in Germany. The following segment is a translation of the paraphrasing of the correspondence by Theo Toebosch in his book on the family Josephus Jitta. [4]

            A contact from the annual trade fair in Leipzig, the merchant and banking house Frege had excellent connections with German royal houses. It is through them that Wolf Jitta in October 1839 offers the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha a fermoir (a clasp, often used as brooch) containing a very large sapphire surrounded by 12 brilliants, for the asking price of 12,000 guilders. In first instance, Albrecht Friedrich Schnür of the Herzogliches Privat-Bureau, the private offices of the Duke, responds negative to the offer. But when Wolf, on his travels back to Amsterdam, decides to visit Coburg with a new offer – 10,000 guilders to be paid within a year –, interest in the fermoir is sparked.

25 October 1839

Schnür confirms he has conveyed the offer to the Duke, who doesn’t refuse it immediately but would like to think about it. At the end of next month he will decide definitively. In the mean time, Josephus Jitta can freely dispose of the fermoir.

1 November 1839

Wolf thanks Schnür for conveying the offer to the Duke. Wolf promises to keep the fermoir reserved for the Duke for a year, even if someone else would offer more. Wolf is sure that because of the high quality and the good price the sale to the Duke will succeed, gaining his trust for new future sales of jewels. Wolf offers to show the Duke a selection of jewels.

29 November 1839

Wolf asks Schnür to convey his congratulations to the Duke for the engagement of ‘your’ Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. Perhaps the wedding and accompanying festivities are a great occasion to buy jewels. Wolf is always willing to deliver pearls, jewels and gemstones to the Duke, with payment according to the Duke’s wishes. PS: May he remind Schnür of the fermoir?

30 November 1839

Schnür has been able to discuss the offer of the fermoir with the Duke, who has decided to pay 10.000 guilders in ’24-golden-foot’. Wolf is asked to send the fermoir to Coburg and to indicate his wishes for payment. Sending such valuable items is something specific, Wolf is requested to arrange for transport to Frankfurt am Main, so that the fermoir is in Gotha before the new year.

10 December 1839

Wolf thanks Schnür and will arrange his son to be the personal courier of the fermoir.

Wolf’s sons Simon, Joseph and Alfred travel to Gotha with the fermoir and more jewels. A few weeks later they return to Amsterdam with new orders (amongst which another fermoir) and a letter appointing Wolf Jitta as Court Jeweller to the Duke.

4 January 1840

Schnür spoke with Simon about diamond set boxes. Wolf mentions being able to send them to London instead of Gotha, in time for the end of the month.

This is likely an order for diamond set snuffboxes to be distributed for the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that was to take place on February 10, 1840.

6 January 1840

Wolf sends Schnür design drawings, not only of the fermoir but also of a set 125 gram (!) pear-shaped pearl and a set brilliant of 16 grams to be attached to the fermoir. Also on offer: a bracelet of 10 strings of first quality pearls, and a sapphire surrounded by brilliants (5,600 guilders), a ferronnière that can also be used as necklace consisting of 20 first class brilliants of which the largest weighs 6 gram, a sapphire, a brilliant and a pear-shaped pearl. Price: 5,300 guilders.

Crown jewel

So what we have is correspondence detailing the sale of a jewel that exactly fits the description of Queen Victoria’s Wedding Brooch, happening right after the engagement of the Queen with the Duke’s son Prince Albert was announced. A portrait from circa 1840 confirms that Queen Victoria did indeed use the brooch as a fermoir, when she wore it as the clasp of a several strand pearl necklace. In the correspondence, a second – smaller (half the price of the fermoir) – sapphire surrounded by brilliants is also mentioned, which could correspond with the brooch that is known to have entered the Royal Collection shortly after Queen Victoria’s wedding brooch. 

Since there are no other explanations for the acquisition of this brooch, and since Prince Albert didn’t have the funds needed for such a jewel, it can safely be concluded that this correspondence between Jitta and the Ducal Court of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha demonstrates that Queen Victoria’s Wedding Brooch was acquired by Queen Victoria’s father in law from the Dutch jeweller Josephus Jitta, who had the jewel made in Amsterdam. Since then, the brooch has become part of the Crown Jewels of Great Britain, and may be viewed as a ‘dynastic’ brooch of the new dynasty that was established with Prince Albert’s accession to the British Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II chose to wear this brooch during her grandson Prince William’s christening, and still wears it regularly.

Copyright main image: HM Queen Elizabeth II

[1] Tilburgsche Courant, 12 January 1879.

[2] Het nieuws van den dag, 20 February 1879.

[3] Le Figaro, 8 October 1857.

[4] Theo Toebosch, Uitverkoren Zondebokken. Een familiegeschiedenis, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2010, pp. 69-76. Many thanks to Theo Toebosch for sharing the original correspondence with me.