Four distinctive black brooches worn by the former British monarch are being sold at Sotheby's next month

By Phil Boucher
February 15, 2021 02:36 PM
Credit: Sotheby's

A selection of Queen Victoria's unique "mourning jewelry" is being auctioned in London.

Four distinctive black brooches worn by the former British monarch, who ruled from 1837 to 1901, are being sold at Sotheby's as part of a wider auction of 400 items from the estate of Patricia Knatchbull. Knatchbull, the second Countess Mountbatten of Burma and first cousin to Prince Philip, died in June 2017.

These include three macabre brooches worn by Victoria to honor the death of her third child and second youngest daughter, Princess Alice, from diphtheria at the age of 35.

The most striking, a "hardstone, enamel and diamond pendant" centering on an onyx heart features the word "Alice" underneath a coronet on its front. The words "Dear Alice" are also inscribed on its reverse alongside the princess's death date "14th December 1878" — the 17th anniversary of the passing of Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, in 1861.

Queen Victoria's hardstone, enamel and diamond 'Alice' pendant
| Credit: Sotheby's

The cross-shaped brooch, which also features a lock of Princess Alice's hair, is expected to sell for between $3,000 and $4,000 when the auction begins on March 24.

Princess Alice is also remembered in a unique onyx pearl button featuring an initial "A" set with seed pearls. Its reverse features a miniature portrait of Alice inscribed with the words "From Mama VRI 7th April 1879."

Queen Victoria's onyx and seed pearl button
| Credit: Sotheby's
Portrait miniature of Princess Alice
| Credit: Sotheby's

The third brooch is described as a "banded agate and pearl pendant" dating from 1878 that includes a lock of Princess Alice's hair and is inscribed "from Grandmama VR" as a gift from the Queen to Alice's daughter, Princess Victoria.

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria as a mourning jewel to commemorate both the death of Princess Alice and her granddaughter Alice's daughter Princess Marie of Hesse, who also died of diphtheria in 1878.

Banded agate and pearl pendant, 1878
| Credit: Sotheby's

Only the fourth black brooch does not commemorate Princess Alice. Instead, it was commissioned by Prince Albert in 1861 for Queen Victoria to mark the death of her mother Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later the Duchess of Kent.

The agate and diamond pendant opens to reveal a miniature photograph of the Queen's mother, with a touching inscription from Albert reading, "Dear Mama. From Albert in remembrance of March 16, 1861. Du warst uns Freud und Glück (You were our joy and happiness)."

Banded agate and diamond pendant, 1861
| Credit: Sotheby's
Inscription from Prince Albert
| Credit: Sotheby's
Miniature photograph of Queen Victoria's mother
| Credit: Sotheby's

Queen Victoria is synonymous with the act of mourning. The British monarch famously wore black every day for forty years following the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert on  Dec. 14, 1861.

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Over the course of her 64-year-reign — second only in length to the record-breaking 68-year (and counting!) reign of Queen Elizabeth II — Victoria suffered many other losses, including her mother and three of her children.

During this time, she adorned herself in black crepe and wearable mementos of her loved ones, creating a new fashion for mourning jewelry throughout Victorian Britain.