In 1961, a “casket of magnificent jewels” was offered for sale at Sotheby’s. Lot number 27, a sapphire and diamond paired-heart brooch, caught the eye of Andrew, 11th Duke of Devonshire. He was the successful bidder and gifted the jewel to his wife, Duchess Deborah.

Duchess Deborah wears the Craven Jewel pinned to the front of a beaded evening top at the evening celebration of the wedding of the 12th Duke of Devonshire (then Marquis of Hartington) to Amanda Heywood-Lonsdale.

The Craven jewel, as it is still named, originally belonged to Cornelia, Countess Craven (née Martin). Countess Craven was one of a group of women who were collectively termed “the dollar princesses” - American women who married English-titled men. These women were often instrumental in aiding ailing country houses and estates, enriching them with their inherited wealth in return for titles and access to the highest tiers of British society.

A notice in the San Francisco Call newspaper of 19th April 1893 described Cornelia’s wedding dress, which was designed and made by the house of Worth, the premier couturier of the day. It noted that, due to the bride’s youth, she appeared without jewellery.

Luckily, many of the bride’s wedding presents were jewels, some of which were heirlooms handed down in the bride’s new family.  The gifts included a collar of diamonds, a diamond ring and a diamond tiara modelled on one worn by Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Although her marriage was not a happy one, Cornelia became an avid collector of art, leaving notable paintings to both Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II  and the National Portrait Gallery.

Her passion however was for jewels, especially those with European Royal provenances. She amassed an unrivalled collection, eventually owning pieces connected to Marie-Antoinette and Mrs Fitzherbert, the morganatic wife of King George IV.

The Craven brooch centres on two large sapphires from a remote Himalayan mine in Kashmir that was only discovered in 1881. When mined, the sapphires were found to possess an unusually intense shade of blue characterised as velvety by gemmologists - inside, sapphires are needle-like inclusions known as silk which refract light softly resulting in the glowing blue hue.

The seam of sapphires in the mine was very small and was all but exhausted within twenty years, resulting in Kashmir sapphires being extremely rare. The brooch was made in the 1890s and it would have been appropriate for a collector like the Countess to acquire stones of such beauty and rarity.

The Craven Jewel pinned on the front of a biscuit coloured coat-dress at the wedding of Lady Emma Cavendish to Tobias Tennant in 1963

The sapphires are surrounded by brilliant diamonds forming heart shapes further ornamented with a detachable pendant pear-shaped pink diamond. When the pendant is detached the brooch can be worn as the centre of a gold bangle ornamented with diamonds, the pin frame from the back of the brooch easily removes to allow the jewel to be mounted securely in another frame set into the bangle.

We have several photographs of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire wearing the jewel in its brooch form, the occasions are sentimental and suggest that the Duchess reserved the brooch for truly special moments. These included the weddings of each of her children. The brooch, with its romantic hearts and connection to the 12th Duke, was especially fitting for a wedding celebration.

About the Devonshire Collection

The Devonshire Collection is one of the largest and most significant private collections in Britain and the culmination of the passions and interests of sixteen generations of the Cavendish family.

Find out more about the collection and some of the items within it here.

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