07 November 2011

Royal Splendor 101: Personal Property

In our third installment, we come to the simplest category and the category that accounts for the largest amount of royal jewelry overall: personal property.

Mary with some of her personal jewels
The same definition that applies for something owned by you or me applies to the royals too: a personal purchase or a personal gift becomes personal property. (The exception here can be gifts given in an official capacity, which is a trickier story that we will handle in a later entry.) Personal property is everywhere, even in countries that make extensive use of a family jewel foundation, and collections range in size from small jewelry boxes to entire vaults and up.

Personal property sounds great, right? It’s always nice to have something to call your own. The owner can do whatever he or she pleases with a personally owned jewel – and that includes getting rid of it. Personal property is the easiest of our categories to be given away as gifts, inherited by descendants, and sold off for profit.

As we discuss these categories of ownership, we're looking at them with an eye to how they effect the longevity and size of a royal jewel stash, and that means that we have to consider the problems that personal property can cause. The reality is that personal jewel ownership can be a chief culprit in the dwindling size of an overall royal collection, and there are a few key reasons for that:

It’s not very good for a consolidated collection. The problem with being able to do whatever you want with the jewels is that there is no mechanism available to ensure that a central, historical collection is kept in place for future royal generations. Monaco is a good example of this: Princess Grace had to build a collection from the ground up as there were no jewels set aside for the Princess of Monaco and her mother-in-law wasn’t sharing her own jewels. And it seems now that Princess Caroline has most of the gems, with Charlene left to (seemingly) start a new collection. Jordan seems to have the same issue – Queen Rania’s collection features gifts and new acquisitions supplemented with loans.

Britain is an interesting case study here as well. A lot of the jewels you see Queen Elizabeth wear are her personal property, left to her by Queen Mary. Thus far she’s kept the collection mostly in tact, and the monarchy has a handy deal worked out with the government in which items transferred from sovereign to sovereign are inherited tax free, which should go a long way to ensuring that massive collection stays with the monarch. But it hasn’t always been that way: apart from state jewels, there are surprisingly few jewels left from Queen Victoria’s time, as a lot of those were split up among her many descendants.

Personal property can be given away. Giving family jewels as presents, particularly for weddings, was and is very popular. This can be good and bad, actually. Huge chunks of the collections of certain monarchies are owed to items brought by foreign princesses marrying into the family. Denmark, for example, owes a huge debt to the Swedish royal collection and the gifts given to the Swedish princesses that became Queen Louise and Queen Ingrid. That’s no big deal for the major collection of Sweden, but in a smaller collection it can be a real problem.
Present and former tiaras of Denmark originally from Sweden
Likewise, Luxembourg owes some thanks to Grand Duchess Joséphine Charlotte’s home country of Belgium, but gifts given to her and to the former Belgian princess Queen Marie José of Italy wiped out a section of the Belgian jewel collection. Today, Belgium has one of the smallest collections around.

The PoltimoreTiara
Personal property can, and sometimes must, be divided up when the owner dies. Luxembourg ended up selling (and almost selling) some of Joséphine-Charlotte’s jewels when they had problems dividing them up after her death. Plus, inheritances take jewels out of the main, jewel-wearing royal line and inject them into branches of the family that don’t have as many occasions to wear them. Inheritances can also cost a lot of money in taxes for families that might be asset-rich but aren’t necessarily cash-rich.

Personal property can be sold. There’s a certain formula that has resulted in many royal jewels leaving the minor royal family branches for good: few occasions to wear jewels + inheritance taxes = jewels sold at auction. This formula is the culprit behind the sale of Princess Margaret's personal items, including jewels, by her children after her death. The star item of that sale: the Poltimore Tiara, worn on her wedding day.

Also, sometimes things are just not needed and cash is preferred. Queen Elizabeth's Kent cousins have used auctions to generate money for years. Over in Spain, the Duchess of Alba confessed to selling off one of her major tiaras in favor of purchasing a horse for her son. And sales have really been the final nail in the coffin of the Belgian jewel collection; several things were sold off while King Leopold was alive, and after his death his second wife Princess Lilian sold one of their best bits - Queen Elisabeth's Cartier Bandeau (more on that, and other notable tiara sales, later this week).

It poses an interesting question: if it was your jewel collection, what would you prefer? Sentimentally, and selfishly too, personal property might be the preference. But if you have an eye to preserving your family's history for generations to come, it might not.

One final note, as we've also been looking at reasons why things are or are not shared in a royal family: Personal property is only shared when the owner feels like sharing, basically. And as we know, in many royal families, that means the wealth is almost never passed around.

Next up: when personal property actually does get loaned out, and some talk of increasing the size of the collection.

Photos: PPE/Daylife/Getty Images