Last week, a veritable bib of diamonds took the Instagram world by storm. Originally posted by Frank Everett of Sotheby’s, the diamond necklace, by Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1939, is a major highlight for the auction house’s New York Magnificent Jewels sale scheduled for December 9th. It is expected to fetch between $3.6 and $4.6 million.
The spectacular piece, along with an equally exquisite diamond tiara, was custom made in 1939 by Van Cleef & Arpels for Queen Nazli of Egypt for the wedding of her daughter, Princess Fawzia, to the future Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi. As is traditional Muslim custom, the marriage at Abdine Palace was without ceremony – simply the signing of the marriage contract between the 19-year-old Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran and the bride’s brother, King Farouk. The princess was not present.
Wearing a satin and silver gown purchased in Paris, Princess Fawzia waited for her new husband in an adjoining room. After the contract was signed, she was flanked by her brother and husband as they descended the staircase for photographs. A sumptuous royal dinner was followed by a lavish reception, where the Egyptian royal court was resplendent in jewels.
The princess wore a custom diamond parure also by Van Cleef & Arpels. The necklace, tiara and earrings set exuded grandeur, the tiara alone was adorned with 54 pear-shaped diamond weighing 92 carats and 530 baguette-cut diamonds weighing 72 carats.
While Princess Fawzia’s wedding was a fabulous affair for the Queen mother, it would be another one of her daughter’s marriages that would change her life forever. In 1950, the King stripped his mother of her rights and titles after the marriage of her youngest daughter, Princess Fathia, and Riyad Ghali Effendi, a union against the King’s wishes as Ghali was a Coptic Christian. Banished from Egypt, the former Queen mother and daughter Fathia resided in the U.S., where they would remain for the rest of their lives.
Queen Nazli possessed one of the largest and most magnificent jewelry collections in the world. A portion of it was sold at auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet in 1975 to support her and her daughter’s high standard of living in Los Angeles. Among the pieces from her collection in the sale, the diamond necklace and matching tiara recalled the splendor of her former life at court. Together, the two pieces sold for $267,500.
However, the money raised from the auction was not enough for the former royals, who lived in luxury for many years from assets they brought to America. In September 1976, the two appeared in a Los Angeles bankruptcy court hoping that the Queen’s diamonds and rubies would bring $500,000 to settle their debts. Bids peaked at $180,000 but the court rejected the offer, instead granting permission to attempt a private sale of the jewels.
Three months later, the princess was found dead in her LA apartment, shot in the head by her estranged husband who then shot himself in the head but survived. Queen Nazli passed away in 1978 after enduring years of painful arthritis.