Queen Máxima's sapphire tiara... is Dutch

Queen Máxima's sapphire tiara... is Dutch

The history of the gorgeous and impressive diamond and sapphire tiara worn by Queen Máxima during the inauguration of her husband Willem-Alexander as King of the Netherlands has been surrounded with mystery. Until November 2013, when esteemed Dutch gemologist George Hamel presented the results of his own research into the origins of this tiara in the Silver Museum in Schoonhoven, Holland's 'Silver City'. It appears every single stone in the tiara was bought new, and the tiara was highly likely made in Amsterdam by Maison van der Stichel.

To many royal jewellery lovers this tiara is still known as the 'Mellerio sapphire tiara'. But this is incorrect: the esteemed Paris jeweller never had anything to do with it (click here for more background information). This was already known since 1996, when René Brus published his book on the jewellery collection of the Dutch royal house, which includes the history of this tiara: in 1881 King Willem III ordered it, with 2 bracelets, at Vita Israël, a prestigious Amsterdam-based broker in jewellery, gemstones, art and real estate, for the sum of 100.000 guilders, which corresponds with 1 million euro in current value.

Brus included in his book the design drawing of the tiara, which contains the name of Vita Israël written over erased text. Hence it remained obscure who was responsible for the design - and likely the production of the tiara as well. According to Brus, the central 44 carat sapphire in the tiara was an heirloom of Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, Queen-Consort of King Willem II of the Netherlands.

Hamel's new findings

Hamel's research included another thorough look into the design drawings, and he was able to consult the specifications of the order. This document proves that the large central sapphire, as well as the other stones, were bought new. The 44 carat sapphire is 2 millimeter smaller then originally agreed on. All sapphires are of Sri Lankan origin, and the diamonds are, given their round shape, undisputably cut in Amsterdam.

Sheer luck led Hamel to a clipping from a German magazine or newspaper dating from 1898, the year of Queen Wilhelmina's inauguration. During the ceremony, her mother Queen Emma wore this tiara. The clipping not only contains a photo of the actual tiara, but also mentions the name of its maker: Maison van der Stichel, back then a prominent diamond setter in... Amsterdam.

They were one of the few jewellers in Amsterdam able to produce the en tremblant technique, in which the diamonds are set on flexible wire allowing the stones to tremble during the movements of the wearer, thus maximizing the brilliance of the stones. Unfortunately, not much is known about Maison van der Stichel, which is one of those (now un)forgotten names in the illustrious diamond history of Amsterdam, and which is probably the erased name on the design drawing. 

Alterations in 1928

Hamel also found a description of the alterations that were made by Van Kempen in 1928. The golden frame was not replaced for a platinum one, but the 3 separate parts of the tiara, allowing the middle part to be worn as a comb, were unified to a single frame. Some alterations were made to make the tiara, which weighs 700 gram, more comfortable to wear - this was done by removing a number of diamonds from the original design. Also, a missing sapphire was replaced.

George Hamel presented his research on November 30, 2013 during the annual Silver Symposium organized by the Silver Museum in Schoonhoven. Hamel graciously allowed me to present the results in written form in an article published in the leading Dutch magazine Royalty in January 2014.