One of the most important jewels from Queen Victoria’s reign – a sapphire and diamond coronet designed by Prince Albert – has been gifted to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
The small crown was designed for Victoria by Prince Albert in the couple’s wedding year, 1840.
Mounted with 11 sapphires set in gold and diamonds set in silver, it features in a famous official portrait of the young Queen Victoria.
When Victoria emerged from mourning in 1866 to attend the State Opening of Parliament, five years after Albert’s death, she wore the jewels instead of her coronation crown.
The coronet, made in 1842 by goldsmith Joseph Kitching for £415, has been gifted to the V&A by financier and philanthropist William Bollinger.
V&A director Tristram Hunt said: “We are thrilled to have acquired Queen Victoria’s sapphire coronet, so lovingly designed by Prince Albert.
“Representing both the passion of the young royal couple, and a powerful symbol of the widowed queen, it will be of deep fascination to visitors and scholars alike.”
He thanked Bollinger for his “incredible generosity”, saying that “his gift allows us to display a jewel so intimately associated with Victoria and Albert that it will instantly become part of the identity of the Museum itself”.
The coronet was inherited by King Edward VII and then by King George V and Queen Mary, who gifted it to their daughter, Princess Mary.
It was sold into private hands and later became the subject of an application to export it from the UK.
In 2016, the coronet was subject to a temporary export bar to find a British buyer willing to meet the asking price of £5 million, plus £1 million VAT, to keep the dazzling object in the UK.
But the application to export the coronet was withdrawn.
The object featured in the 1842 work by German painter and lithographer Franz Xaver Winterhalter, which became one of the defining images of Victoria around the world.
The coronet matched the sapphire brooch that Albert gave her the day before their wedding at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace.
Victoria had noted in her journal: “My dear Albert has such good taste and arranges everything for me about my jewellery”, but her interest in gemstones faded after Albert’s death.
The coronet, which also represents a symbol of enduring love, will go on display at the Museum’s William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery in 2019, the bicentenary year of the birth of both Victoria and Albert.
In 1899, Victoria proposed that the South Kensington Museum should be re-named the Albert Museum to commemorate his leading role in its establishment, but agreed to it becoming the Victoria and Albert Museum instead.