Royals and diamonds have always been a good combination. Now there is an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the most unique royal diamonds that have not been seen in a long time. The new exhibition “Schitterend Verlangen” or “Dazzling Desire” can be admired at the Museum Aan de Stroom in Antwerp, Belgium. Our Europe Correspondent Laura Dekkers visited the exhibition and shared her views.
Antwerp, one of Belgium’s largest cities, is also called the Diamond Capital. This city received this title in 1447. Today 85% of the rough diamonds in the world travel via Antwerp. This year the city decided to bring a unique exhibition to the MAS museum. The central theme of the exhibit is how people make their desires tangible through diamonds. It is about how people connect their feelings in various ways with diamonds: religion, love, power. The expo consists of some exceptional ancient diamonds in combination with more recent ones.
The expo shows some gorgeous rings, medallions, bracelets, necklaces and many other pieces of jewellery from the fifteenth century up until the twentieth century. The way in which these jewels were made, even though people did not have the same tools as there is today, is impressive. The precision with which tiny details are made is astonishing. Even though much can be said about all those pieces of jewellery, it is not possible to write about each individual piece.
A unique piece of jewellery with a royal connection is the engagement ring of Mary of Burgundy. This ring is said to be the first diamond engagement ring. Mary of Burgundy was the wife of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor. The ring was produced in the fifteenth-century consists of gold and various diamonds. The letter M is formed in diamonds on the ring. Today the ring is kept in Vienna, but for the exhibition, it was brought to Antwerp.
A replica of the Great Imperial Crown of the Russian Empire is also on display. It is indeed a replica as the crown is not allowed to leave Russia. The replica consists of 11,352 diamonds which is twice as much as the original crown. It was Tsarina Catherine who ordered the crown, and every Romanov Tsar has worn it – until the end of the Romanov dynasty in 1917. The replica of the crown was made in 2012 by a Russian diamond company and can now be exclusively seen at the exhibition.
There is also an opportunity to take a closer look at the breast star of the Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold. The Order of Leopold is the highest Belgian order and is worn by all members of the Belgian Royal Family and given to many other heads of state, as well. The breast star of the exhibition was made at the end of the twentieth century and is the same as the breast stars worn by the Belgian King and Queen nowadays. The breast star also shows the motto of Belgium: L’union fait la force (Strength through unity).
My personal favourite piece of the exhibition is the Diamond Scroll Tiara of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. After her marriage to King Albert I of Belgium, Queen Elisabeth needed new jewellery to stress her new status. She bought the Diamond Scroll Tiara which consists of 1282 diamonds from Cartier. The design evokes acanthus leaves. Cartier was seen as the “Jeweller of Kings, King of jewellers by King Edward VII.” Queen Elisabeth wore the tiara as a headband in the fashion style of the twenties. Many postcards of the Queen wearing the tiara were distributed in Belgium. After her death, the tiara was in the possession of her son King Leopold III. His second wife Queen Lilian of the Belgians was often seen wearing the tiara. Queen Lilian of the Belgians sold the Diamond Scroll Tiara back to Cartier in 1987. The tiara has never been on display before except for a very short time when Cartier opened its store in Brussels.
These are only a few of the very special collection of diamonds that the exhibition shows. For more diamond jewellery – royal and non-royal – head to the Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS) in Antwerp, Belgium. More information regarding opening hours and tickets can be found here. “Dazzling Desire” can be visited until the 14th of January 2018.