A diamond tiara once owned by the Queen of Albania came to the block this Tuesday at Sotheby’s New York. The auction house estimated the Ostier tiara to fetch between $30,000 and $50,000. But how could a tiara once owned by a queen not gavel for far more? How much more, you ask? $180,000 was the hammer price but that pesky buyer’s premium brings the grand total to $225,000. (Old Blighty translation: £160,910 or €207,864 for those of you on the Old Continent.)
Naturally, last Sunday, your Blog Hostess and the Right Honorable Mr. Blog Hostess headed down to one of the viewing sessions prior to the Magnificent and Noble Jewels auctions. All photo & video credits unless otherwise noted are the exclusive property of Emilio Zarco, trademark, copyright, rights of use in perpetuity. Yes, they allowed your Blog Hostess to handle it but no–just like when we examined the Art Deco Kokoshnik of Híjar–they do not let you try it on. No, we didn’t ask but we wanted to appear like a serious jewelry shopper not a six year-old at Disney.
The tiara was made as a wedding/coronation gift for Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy, a Budapest-born daughter of a Count, whose beauty earned her the moniker “the White Rose of Hungary. See Queen Geraldine glitter past in the diamond tiara below. Queen Geraldine…we all know your Blog Hostess isn’t getting sick of that rhyme any time soon.
The gold frame is set with European and circular cut diamonds totaling just over 28 carats while the baguettes used to create the flower stems weigh in at 4.8 carats.
No, you’re not ‘shrooming, the tiara does feature a goat’s head and, yes, the temptation to call it the “Goat’s Head Tiara” is staggering. It’s actually a ram’s head that sits atop a bandeau of Albanian wildflowers. The Ram of Skanderberg was the chosen symbol of the Albanian Royal family by Zog; the newest monarch in Europe actually added Skanderborg to his name thus attaching himself to the eponymous national hero, a nobleman and warrior from the 15th Century.
The use of the ram is explained beautifully by the jeweler herself, Marianne Ostier, descended from 3 generations of Hapsburg court jeweler, in her book Jewels and the Woman,
…at the bridal coronation of Queen Geraldine of Albania, Geraldine was a Roman Catholic countess betrothed to a Mohammedan king. A royal crown usually bears a symbol of the monarch’s faith…religious motifs in the ornamentation…my problem was to establish a royal but not a religious motif.
I found it in the crest of the Kings of Albania. This bears the stylized head of a rare mountain ram, which roams the snowy peaks of the beautiful Albanian mountains. A sculptured head of the ram I had encrusted with diamonds and set in the centre of the tiara; this tapered down to a border of white roses made of diamonds, the leaves fashioned of diamond baguettes—a decorative and distinctive crown for [a] decorative & distinguished queen.
Last week was the second time Geraldine’s Diamond Tiara made it to the auction block.
Back in the 60s, pharmaceutical mogul Elmer Holmes Bobst procured this tiara so his wife Mamdouha could wear it to a 1966 dinner at the White House. . Friends said that Mamdouha–great name, sure there’s a story there–always wore her finest jewels when invited to events, considering it the ultimate compliment or way to honor her hosts. Your Blog Hostess is unsure how she feels on this policy.Jealous? Yeah, that’s probable. A lavish vintage of the bubbles would suffice in the Blog Household.
behind the tiara: Zog plus Geraldine sitting’ in a tree plus a monarchy crumbles.
In 1932, King Zog of Albania saw the débutante photo of a Hungarian-born countess, Geraldine Apponyi, the 17 year-old was dressed as Mimi from La Boheme. It was love at first daguerrotype. After her 21st birthday, Geraldine, impoverished and working at a library in Budapest, received a letter from Princess Senji, King Zog’s favorite sister, inviting her to court. Princess Senji (see left) was scouting Europe for the best blue-blooded beauty to be her brother’s queen. The young countess had everything on Zog’s wish list: beautiful duh, didn’t see that one coming; of noble birth check; and most importantly she was not recommended or sponsored by Mussolini who had greedy designs on Albania. The invade-y kind.
In December of 1937, Geraldine was received at the port of Durrësi by limo escort. The car squired her to a villa, each room of her quarters replete with red roses. Later, the king came by the villa to finally speak to the teenage costume party-goer that he’d fallen in love with via photo. Zog and Geraldine “talked” all night and when she woke the next morning more fresh roses, this time in the shaped into a colossal heart, awaited her. Now I know that you hipsters are all jaded when it comes to traditional romance but before you turn your nose up at red roses remember that this is Albania in the 30s in December. They were not easy to come by…
By 4:00 in the afternoon, Geraldine had accepted Zog’s proposal in marriage. The King still gave her 10 days to reconsider; 10 days brimming with jewelry and flowers. Geraldine didn’t change her mind; the engagement ring was 40 carats. Her wedding dress was made by Worth of Paris. The tiara though a bridal gift was not the diadem of choice when Geraldine and Zog wed on February 19, 1938. Her attire is much more reminiscent of traditional Albanian folk brides. (See right.)
Ominously, the House of Zoga’s reign was doomed since the wedding ceremony. Il Ducce sent his son-in-law Count Galazzo Ciano as witness to the ceremony. The Count left the wedding night for Italy to relay a message cynically, invade. Some guest? What was his wedding gift? Dirty sock filled with soap bars? Anyone who remembers their 10th grade history chapter on Eastern Europe knows Mussolini liked what he heard. On April 16, 1939 King Zog was officially deposed and the Constituent Assembly proclaimed Vittorio Emanuele III the new King of Albania.
In the months she was briefly queen, Geraldine of Albania did her best to help the perilously rural country. Under the House of Zoga, Albania acquired a school system, worked to install a hygiene program in the country’s remote mountain villages. They attempted to standardize a language from several tribal dialects. Here, the King and Queen are seen meeting with the Chieftains of the Albanian Tribes…she is also wearing the Diamond Goat’s Head Tiara…
There had even been the beginnings of a road network before February of 1939. Zog learned that Italy was planning to divide Albania with Yugoslavia. It all fell apart in a series of days.
On April 5, Queen Geraldine gave birth to their only child, Prince Leka. On the sixth, panic settled in Tirana as the Italian community began to empty the city. An Italian general arrived at the royal palace with the official ultimatum. If Zog wanted to retain any semblance of his royal status he would have to make concessions basically turning Albania into an Italian province. The same general came by later that afternoon with the ambassador to wish their congratulations upon the royal birth, then asked Zog’s decision.
The family prepared to flee across the Greek frontier towards Turkey then Romania. Queen Geraldine, weak and bleeding from childbirth was carried down to the car and bundled away in the night with her sisters-in-law and her infant son. Over the course of the war the Albanian Royal Family bounced around Europe, eventually finding Great Britain to be the safest haven, even during the carpet bombings. Although not officially recognized in the UK or the US as a head-of-government-in-exile, Zog of Albania was known in London for this poker parties.
the 3rd girl who got the Ram of Skänderborg
Here’s where things get really weird. During their years in exile, the CIA uncovered that King Zog had been sleeping with Princess Senji, his 3rd and favorite sister of the six he had. More bizarre is the fact that the Queen knew about the brother-on-sister action and was ostensibly unfazed.
It isn’t so far-fetched to conclude that this portrait, supposedly taken in Italy, was taken during their affair? It seems so odd that anyone besides the Queen would wear a coronation tiara…upon closer inspection it looks like a different tiara. The ram’s horns face the right, not the left.
Zog died in 1961, Leka became claimant to the throne. In 1973 he married Susan Cullen-Ward, daughter of a wealthy Australian entrepreneur. It was said the the Dowager Queen was “radiant in a elegant little tiara and a powder-blue dress.” We know it wasn’t her Diamond Coronation tiara, it had already been sold.