The French Crown Jewels are on display in the Galerie d’Apollon in the Louvre. The regalia of the Habsburgs are exhibited in the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer in Vienna.
But the jewels of the House of Savoy, Italy’s ruling family from 1861 to 1946, have been kept hidden at the Bank of Italy headquarters in Rome since King Umberto II left the throne and the country that last year.
In January, more than 75 years later, the king’s four children, Prince Vittorio Emanuele and Princesses Maria Gabriella, Maria Pia and Maria Beatrice, formally requested the return of the jewels, but the bank refused, contesting their ownership. The heirs then filed a lawsuit and a hearing is scheduled for the Court of Rome in June.
They are trying to figure out what, according to the King’s inventory note to the bank and newspaper photos published in 1957, is a three-drawer box containing 14 pieces. “It is the group of the most important jewels of the House of Savoy, which the consort-queen wore during formal receptions,” said Stefano Papi, a jewelery historian. he and me Princess Maria Gabriella wrote the book “Jewelry of the House of Savoy”, which was published in the United States in 2007.
The piece considered the most important, he said, is a tiara composed of diamond-studded swirls crossed by a chain of round pearls and decorated with 11 teardrop-shaped pearls at the top and large round pearls at the bottom. It was made by the court jeweler of Savoy, Musy Padre e Figli in Turin, the birthplace of the Savoy family.
The tiara echoes the style of another from the Savoy family that sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva in May 2021 for 1.47 million Swiss francs ($1.6 million).
The Savoy cache also contains two diamond bracelets; a button brooch set with a pink diamond; and a double-stranded chain (the metal was not specified in the king’s inventory) with knots resembling the Savoy knot, the emblem of the house.
Papi said the jewelry was last seen in public when it was worn by Queen Elena of Montenegro, who had taken her into custody after the murder of her father-in-law, King Umberto I, in 1900. They were placed in several places around the country. years, including a tunnel in the center of Rome during World War II, and after the war they were moved to a vault in the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of the royal family.
But when a referendum in 1946 ended the monarchy and Umberto II went into exile in Portugal, he handed over the jewels to Luigi Einaudi, then governor of the Bank of Italy, along with a note which, in translation, read: The Custody of the central treasury of the Bank of Italy at the disposal of those who have the right.”
Savoy’s heirs say the jewels belong to the family.
“Unlike the coin collection, the Corpus Nummorum Italicorum, which my grandfather Vittorio Emanuele III gave to the Italian people,” said Princess Maria Gabriella in a telephone interview, “the jewels kept at the Bank of Italy have never been donated, and neither are they confiscated, they are private jewels.” A provision of the country’s 1948 constitution assigning all Savoy property to the Italian state makes no mention of them.
Prince Emanuele Filiberto, an entrepreneur who has appeared on Italian TV (and won the 2009 version of “Dancing With the Stars”) is the only son of Prince Vittorio Emanuele and is said to have lined up to become King of Italy. to become if history had been otherwise. In a recent interview, he echoed his aunt’s argument: “There is no such thing as Italian Crown Jewels; they were private property of my family.”
However, the bank cited Umberto II’s note – and the directive on access – when asked to make the gems available. It refused the princess permission to see and photograph them when she was researching her book in the early 2000s, saying no to the city of Turin, which she wanted to exhibit at the 2006 Winter Olympics there.
“The real problem again is everything Italian politics and bureaucracy, and everything is extremely slow and cumbersome,” said Prince Emanuele Filiberto. “And then nobody knew what to do with it and how to do it. So these jewels have been forgotten.”
A request to photograph the jewels for this article was answered with an official message on behalf of the bank, sent by Angela Barbaro, the head of the communications directorate: “The jewels are in a ‘closed package’ that cannot be opened, except for those who have the right to request it; in any case, the Bank of Italy, as depositary, cannot take any action on this material unless instructed to do so by the rightholder.” There was no answer to a further question about the identity of the ‘titleholder’.
Even the potential value of the jewels has been up for debate, but someone who saw them about 50 years ago said he wasn’t impressed.
Gianni Bulgari, a member of the Bulgari jewelry family, was one of the officials and experts summoned by the bank in 1976 to view the jewelry because rumors circulated in the Italian press that it had been stolen or that something had been replaced. . “I was surprised by the modest quality of the pieces,” said Mr Bulgari, 87, in a recent telephone interview. “They have historical value, but little material.”
However, Mr Bulgari noted that he had not made a formal assessment. “I just got to see the jewelry, nothing was asked and I went out and wondered why I was invited,” he said.
The prince said he was not concerned about their financial value. “I don’t think we are talking about the most exceptional stones in the world, but they have great historical value,” he said.
So Mr. Papi said, “It would be best to display them, perhaps in a room in the Quirinale Palace. I don’t understand why the Bank of Italy is hiding them. Why?”