Jewelry In Focus

A 15th-Century Ruby Buddha and the Yusupov Jewels

Ruby buddga

The origins of the ruby Buddha start with an enormous rough Burmese ruby left to the skilled hands of a Chinese artist during the Ming dynasty in 15th-century China.  Exquisitely carved into a statuette of a Buddha standing roughly five inches tall, this important piece resided in the Summer Palace in Beijing until 1860.  After more than four centuries, the statuette’s quiet existence was suddenly shaken with scandal:  it was taken by the British who had invaded the city and looted the palace during the Second Opium War.  From that date on, the story of the Buddha grows richer with its next guardian, a flamboyant Russian Prince.

Cartier. An Antique Burmese Ruby Buddha Formerly in the Collection of Prince Felix Youssoupov. - Photo courtesy of FD Gallery

Cartier. An Antique Burmese Ruby Buddha Formerly in the Collection of Prince Felix Youssoupov. – Photo courtesy of FD Gallery
The Large Carved Burmese Ruby Buddha is adorned with cabochon rubies and sits upon a jade base. The Ruby and Gold Case is by Cartier and is signed with a plaque denoting that the Buddha is 15th Century and formerly of the Youssoupov collection. The 1920’s period was greatly influenced by ‘all things oriental’. When Prince Youssopoff brought this priceless rescued gem to Cartier, the designers incorporated a familiar idea to the Russsian Prince, that of Faberge’s encasing sculptures within simple glass cases. In true Cartier style however, befitting the Buddha and his importance, the Imperial carved ruby is encircled with Burma cabochon rubies then placed on the Art Deco color combination, red and green, jade plinth and then within a glass case mounted with ruby studded gold designed as a Chinese table, case signed Cartier, measuring 11cm,12.75cm (with knob) in length,
11cm in depth, 16 3.4 in height.

The 70-plus-carat Burmese ruby Buddha eventually fell into the hands of Prince Felix Yusupov, the son of the immensely wealthy Princess Zenaide Yusupova.  At one time the richest man in Russia, Yusupov’s fortune was acquired through extensive land grants in Siberia from generations earlier as well as his family’s ownership of  several profitable mines and fur trading posts.  With a fortune beyond comprehension, Yusupov owned a seemingly endless string of magnificent properties, including the Moika Palace in St. Petersburg and an Empire-style chateau at Arkhangelskoe on the outskirts of Moscow.

The Moika Palace in St. Petersburg

The Moika Palace in St. Petersburg

Sharing these luxuries with Yusupov was his wife, Irina, the niece of the czar Nicholas II. “It was re­­portedly a happy, if unconventional, marriage. By his own account, Felix enjoyed dressing in women’s clothing and cavorting with gypsy bands.” (source)  Interestingly, it was in Yusupov’s Moika Palace that Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri and others murdered, with great difficulty in fact, Rasputin on the night of December 29th, 1916.

Princess Irina Alexandrovna and Prince Felix Yusupov, 1913.

Princess Irina Alexandrovna and Prince Felix Yusupov, 1913.

Exiled from his homeland during the Russian Revolution in 1917, Yusupov retrieved some of his spectacular jewels, objets d’art, including the Buddha, and two paintings by Rembrandt from his Moika Palace, the sale proceeds of which helped sustain the family in exile.  Yusupov’s mother, Princess Zenaide, owned an impressive collection second only to that of the imperial vaults, which included historically significant and priceless jewels such as the Polar Star diamond, the famous Le Regente Pearl and the incredible La Pelegrina Pearl.  Many of the jewels left behind became the property of the Bolsheviks as they looted their way through Russia, repossessing the belongings of the country’s wealthiest families.

La Regente Pearl

Princess Zinaida Yusupov of Russia wearing the pearl sautoir with the La Regente Pearl, also known as the ‘La Perle Napoleon’. It is the 5th largest pearl in the world.

La Regente Pearl

La Regente Pearl

Princess Zinaida Yusupov wearing the La Pelegrina Pearl as a head ornament surmounted by the La Regente

Princess Zinaida Yusupov wearing the La Pelegrina Pearl as a head ornament surmounted by the La Regente. La Pelegrina Pearl was once part of the Spanish Crown Jewels.

“News of the discovery in 1925 of the jewelry cache in Prince Yusupov’s Moscow palace haunted the international press.  Allegedly the hiding place had been betrayed by the son of the mason who devised it in 1917.  Secret passages from the picture gallery led to two underground dungeons, from which were recovered 255 brooches, 13 tiaras (among them the Cartier tiara bought in 1914), 42 bracelets and 210 kilos of assorted objets d’art.  By this time, however, Princess Zenaida and her son Felix had already got the historic pearls and diamonds out of the country.  After an unsuccessful American journey, in which he had planned to raise money by selling his precious stones, Felix approached Pierre Cartier in 1922 and offered him the following diamonds:

“The ‘Ram’s Head’, a 17.47-carat stone, light rose in colour and cut in the shape of a flattened octahedron.  This diamond had seemingly been given by Catherine the Great to her favourite, Potemkin.  Cartier’s bought it in 1927 and sold it to Daisy Fellowes.  It was stolen from her in 1939 and has not been seen since.

“The ‘Sultan of Morocco’, a steel-coloured diamond of 35.67 carats, said to have been in the possession of the Yusupov family since 1840.  In 1924 Cartier’s debated whether to display the stone at the great 1925 Art Deco exhibition.  In 1926 or 1929 (the records are not clear) the diamond was sold to America.  As late as 1969 Cartier’s arranged to display it in the World of Gems Exhibition held in the New York State Museum.  In 1972 it passed into the possession of the jeweller F. J. Cooper of Philadelphia.

The Sultan of Morocco - Photo courtesy of Famous Diamonds

The Sultan of Morocco

“The ‘Diamond Earrings of Marie Antoinette’, with two drop diamonds of 34.59 carats, which had allegedly belonged to the Yusupov family since 1802.  When and to whom Cartier’s sold them is unclear.

Diamond Earrings of Marie Antoinette

Diamond Earrings of Marie Antoinette

“The ‘Polar Star’, a cushion-shaped diamond of 41.28 carats, originally the property of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s elder brother.  Its second owner was Princess Tatiana Yusupov (1769-1841).  The name comes from its cut as an eight-pointed star.  From 1924 the stone was lodged , with interruptions, with Cartier London, and it was then pledged along with other Yusupov jewels with the London firm of T. M. Sutton until Cartier’s redeemed it.  In Paris in 1928 they sold it for £48,000 to Lydia, Lady Deterding, the wife of the Dutch oil magnate.

The Polar Star

The Polar Star

“Other Yusupov treasured included the ‘Blue Venus’, carved from a single light blue 11-cm-long sapphire, on a base set with a ruby with Medusa-head intaglio; a Buddha carved out of ruby from the Summer Palace near Peking; and a statuette of Jupiter ascribed to Benvenuto Cellini.”  (source)

Blue Venus

‘Blue Venus’ – Photo courtesy of Christie’s
Designed as a sculpted light blue sapphire depicting Venus, enhanced by a rose-cut diamond openwork foliate base, encasing a carved oval red spinel seal, depicting the profile of a Strozzi Medusa head, circa mid 19th century, 4¼ ins., in a black leather fitted case

Once in Cartier’s possession, the Buddha received an elaborate presentation case similar to those made by Faberge for his jeweled sculptures, which added to the Buddha’s value, according to jewelry expert and historian Clive Kandel in an article by Robb Report.  “The identities of its owners and its whereabouts during the decades between its appearance at Cartier London in the 1920s and its reemergence five years ago in South America remain unknown. Cartier London displayed the Buddha alongside Blue Venus, a statuette that was carved from a large sapphire and also belonged to Yusupov.  But because many of Cartier London’s records were lost, no one knows what became of the Buddha after the piece’s time at the boutique.” (source)

At present, this storied Buddha is now a part of Fiona Druckenmiller’s magnificent collection at her boutique, FD Gallery, a treasure whose next adventurous chapter awaits an equally illustrious author to add to its impressive provenance.

Other important jewels in the Yusupov collection include the following pieces:

1110277_0001 1110276_0001

A sketch of one the pieces made by Chaumet for Irene and Felix in 1914

A sketch of one the pieces made by Chaumet for Irene and Felix in 1914

Irina Youssoupov's wedding tiara by Cartier

Irina Youssoupov’s wedding tiara by Cartier


Below are links to more Yusupov treasures:

Emerald – Diamond – Stomacher | emerald jewelry chest

Ruby – Diamond – Necklace | ruby diamond necklace 

Chaumet Emerald Diamond Tiara | emerald diamond tiara by Chaumet 

Ruby Diamond Chaumet Bandeau | Ruby Diamond Headband 

Queen Marie Antoinette Diamond Drops | Queen Marie-Antoinette’s diamond drops 

Princess Irina `s Wedding Tiara | Wedding tiara with diamonds and engraved rock crystal 

LA PELEGRINA Azra and the Black Pearl | The PELEGRINA pearl and black pearl Azra 

Lover’s Knot Tiara Pearl | Round Pearl Tiara with the Love Knot Ornament

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Lynn Morgan
    March 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    This is spectacular! I have long been fascinated with the history of Omperial Russia, and jrwels are so intomately entwined with that tragic history. So much beauty and so much sadness.

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