Quatar: Queen Marie of Romania and her precious sapphire

Romania marked its National Day today (December 1). On that day, in 1918, in the aftermath of the Great War (the first World War), in circumstances marked by a dismantled Europe, with falling Empires, the Romanian language-speaking provinces took the determined decision to come together under a single, united country, says ThePeninsulaQuatar.com. 

But united Romania also needed international endorsement. An arduous process of territorial negotiations followed, at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919-1920, to the success of which contributed one iconic female figure in the Romanian history: Queen Marie of Romania.

Her mentioning in this article is of particular relevance for Qatar. Visitors of the Museum of Islamic Art will be privileged to admire, in the temporary exhibition: “A Falcon’s Eye – Tribute to Sheikh Saoud Al Thani”, a piece of Queen Marie’s legacy, now homed by Qatar, which was very dear to the Romanian Queen: her immense 478-carat blue sapphire. This is the largest known cut sapphire in the world, originated from Sri Lanka. Cartier, the French jewel maker, faceted the stone in 1913 and enclosed it within a fixture of three platinum and diamond claws, then attaching the sapphire pendant to a waist-long diamond necklace.

Queen Marie’s husband, king Ferdinand of Romania, purchased the sapphire from Cartier, in 1921, since the Queen had lost most of her jewellery in the war. On 7 September 1921, she wrote in her diary: “We went first to the Cartier’s to buy the superb sapphire necklace, which Nando (king Ferdinand) bought to pair with my tiara. It is a unique piece of jewellery, it is superb, and the woman in me fills with joy, because jewels have always had a special significance in my family – a Russian inheritance!”. The king bought the necklace for the amount of 1,375,000 francs, payable in 4 instalments, until 1924.

Queen Marie loved it so much, so that she proudly wore it at the Royal Coronation for Great Romania, in the town of Alba Iulia, Romania, of 15th of October 1922.
And she continued to wear the sapphire at important events, including at her visit in the USA, in 1926. She is depicted wearing the necklace in her Art Deco portrait by British painter Philip Alexius de Laszlo, which is displayed in the Hall of Honour of Queen Marie’s Pelișor Castle, in Sinaia, Romania.

Queen Marie was the granddaughter of both Queen Victoria of United Kingdom and of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. An ambitious and beautiful princess, she married the crown prince of Romania, Ferdinand, in 1893, at the age of 17. The couple became the monarchs of (what was then) Romania in 1914 , shortly before World War I. The country initially remained neutral, but eventually joined the war in 1916, on the side of France and the UK. During the war, the royal family had to seek refuge in the north of Romania, in Moldova. Queen Marie gave an outstanding personal example, by tirelessly visiting the camp hospitals, taking care of medical supplies, nursing wounded soldiers and raising money. People adored her.

Overwhelmed by hardships and losses, Romania capitulated to Germany in March 1918. This decision displeased her allies, France and the UK. Even though Romania joined the war again shortly before its end, in November 1918, the two countries had little appetite for ratifying Romania’s self-proclaimed unity, of 1st December 1918.

Peace talks, initiated in Paris, in 1919, were difficult and hopes for Romania looked grim. In agreement with the prime minister of Romania of the time, the Queen went herself to the Paris Peace Conference, on an unofficial visit, to advocate the Romanian cause.

Her outstanding personality, diplomatic skills, her charm and persuasion proved crucial. Queen Marie had a 2-hour meeting with the French Prime Minister, George Clemenceu, who, later, stated “a Queen like Marie of Romania should be received with full military honours ordered by Marshal Foch himself”. After the Paris Peace Conference, Romania doubled in size and became the 5th largest country in Europe.

Queen Marie loved jewellery. She had a keen passion for diamonds and pearls. Her collection contained some 400 pieces. But the sapphire pendant has always had a special place in her collection. The Queen made specific provisions on who will inherit the sapphire necklace, in her successive wills. Her will of 28 June 1933 reads “I leave the big diamond, gifted to me by King Ferdinand, to my beloved grandson Michael”.

Queen Marie died in 1938. After her death, the sapphire was inherited by her grandson, King Michael, who was the last king of Romania. King Michael was forced by the communist regime to abdicate and to leave Romania in 1947. He eventually sold the sapphire in 1948 to the New York jeweller Harry Winston. Then not much was known, until it was purchased, in 2003, at an auction of Christie’s, Geneva.

But, symbolically, the sapphire stays with the Queen Marie beyond her death, resting on the brave chest of her massive bronze statue, inaugurated in 2018 in Ashford, Kent, UK, her native region.

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