The Beau Sancy

Photo courtesy AFP

A photo of the Beau Sancy, reunited with the Sancy, which is just off-camera to the left. Finnish gemologist Herbert Tillander, after years of preparatory work, correspondence and persuasion convinced the relevant authorities to stage an exhibition of the two diamonds. In October of 1972, Prince Louis Ferdinand himself (the head of the Hohenzollern family -- the owners of the stone) came to Helsinki to open the exhibition Two Historic Diamonds. The diamonds had been seperated for about 370 years.

At the time of the marriage of Prince Albert of Prussia with Princess Mary of Sachsen-Altenburg in Berlin, the bridge was described in the newspaper accounts of the wedding as wearing "the crown necklace, with the celebrated 'Sancy' diamond." Much surprise and mystification were caused by this statement, apparently made on authority; for amongst the many strange peregrinations of the "celebrated 'Sancy' diamond," a visit to the Prussian "Schatz-Kammer" had not hitherto been mentioned. We are now in a position to clear up the mystery, thanks to the subjoined extract from an official communication obligingly made to us on June 7th, 1881, by Herr Smernitz, minister of the Royal Household, Berlin: --

"Amongst the numerous diamonds of the Royal Treasury there is one only possessing historical interest. This is a brilliant of splendid shape weighing 34 carats, worn as a pendant to a necklace, and known as the 'Little Sancy.' This diamond was bought by Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, who died in the year 1647, and who was grandfather of King Frederick I of Prussia. Through King Frederick it passed from the Orange bequests to the Prussian Royal Treasury."

It thus appears that at her wedding Princess Mary of Sachen-Altenburg wore not the celebrated "Sancy" diamond, but this "Little Sancy", correctly enough described as attached to the "crown necklace." Of the very existance of this "Little Sancy", the public has been hitherto profoundly ignorant. Nor does it even now appear by what right it bears the name "Sancy" at all. The explanation, however, is not far to seek. We already have seen that Nicholas Harlai, Signeur de Sancy, was evidently a diamond collector, and that he died in the year 1627. After his death his collection was no doubt dispersed by his family, and in this way the diamond, weighing 34 carats, would be thrown into the market. Hence its purchase by Frederick Henry of Orange, in 1647, is easily accounted for. A diamond of its weight, rare enough in those days, at least in Europe, would naturally be associated with its owner, the famous collector, M. Sancy, and as the largest, weighing 54 carats, was known as the "Great Sancy"; the other, weighing 34 carats probably the next in size, took the name of the "Little Sancy." Source: Great Diamonds of the World, by Edwin Streeter, second edition, printed 1882.

Photo courtesy Hohenzollern Castle

The above account of this diamond was written by Edwin Streeter. He was the first author to write in-depth on the subject of famous diamonds. His book Great Diamonds of the World actually went on to have about five or six editions. This diamond is now more commonly known as the Beau Sancy Diamond.

This illustration of the Beau Sancy is from Thomas Cletscher's Sketchbook,
which has been reproduced in a number of different places, among them Herbert
Tillander's book Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewelry - 1381 to 1910. The stone
is double-sided -- the opposite side looks essentially identical to this drawing.

Nicholas Harlay de Sancy, diplomat, financier and ardent monarchist, is remembered as the owner of the 55.23-carat shield-shaped diamond, the Sancy, one of the most celebrated gems in history. Sancy also owned another sizeable and beautiful diamond whose existence was documented on January 31st, 1589 as follows:

"A great flawless diamond, facet cut, weight 37 to 38 carats or thereabouts, set in a golden frame and the end of which hangs a great round pearl, flawless and perfect, of about 20 carats; also a great heart-shaped ruby set in gold at the base of which hangs a great pear-shaped pearl, for the price of 20,000 ecus. The large jewels were pladged and put into the hands of the said Sieur de Sancy that he might pawn them in Switzerland, Germany or elsewhere with the charge that if they were pledged for less than 24,000 ecus. His Majesty will only pay the said Sancy the price for which they were pledged."

This diamond came to be known as the 'Beau Sancy', or 'Little Sancy' and was destined to pursue a different course of history from Sancy's larger diamond. The Beau Sancy is a colorless, rounded pear shape, cut with a total of 110 facets, including the two small table facets.

Both of Nicholas de Sancy's diamonds came to be the subject of protracted negotiations with parties in Constantinople and the Duke of Mantua, a connoisseur and avid collector of fine gems. On October 10th, 1589, Sancy wrote to M. de la Brosse, who was acting on behalf of the Duke:

"One of my diamonds weighs 60 [old] carats. I want nothing less than 80,000 ecus for the big diamond and 60,000 for the smaller. If it pleases His Highness to take one or both of them, I will sell them to him, but I wish ready money, or most of it guaranteed, for the rest, in Venice or France, and wish no delay for the most shall not exceed three years."

The negotiations with the Duke of Mantua continued well into 1604 and ultimately came to nothing. Instead, Sancy sold the large diamond to King James I of England. There remained the Beau Sancy which, in 1604, was bought for merely 25,000 ecus by Marie de Médicis, the consort of King Henry IV of France. In The French Crown Jewels, Bernard Morel suggests that it is a strong bet that the King himself paid for the diamond in order to assuage the feelings of indignation aroused in the Queen when she learned that Sancy had sold his bigger diamond to the King of England. The Beau Sancy was set in the top of the crown which Marie de Médicis wore at her coronation in 1610.

After the murder of Henry IV in the same year, the Queen became Regent and devoted herself to affairs of state; she developed a passion for power which led to civil unrest in France and estrangement from her son, King Louis XIII. Marie de Médicis was exiled in disgrace to Compiégne, escaped to Brussels in 1631 and at Cologne in 1642, having intrigued in vain against Cardinal Richelieu, the statesman who is acknowledged as the architect of France's greatness in the seventeenth century. She died in straitened financial circumstances which led to the sale of her possessions to pay her debts. The Beau Sancy was sold to Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, for 80,000 florins. It is said that history never repeats itself but does sometimes produce curious parallels: in 1644, two years after the death of Marie de Médicis, her daughter, Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, King of England, was forced to pawn the Sancy's large diamond so as to raise funds to support the Royalist cause in the Civil War in England.

Prince Frederick Henry (1584 - 1687), the son of William the Silent, the principal leader of the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain, achieved fame as a general and a politician. He was the first of his line to assume, as leader of the United Provinces of Holland, a semi-monarchical status and to determine both domestic and foreign policies. Until the age of 41 it was said of him that he was 'too fond of women to tie himself permanently to one of them.' He did eventually succumb, to endow the Hague in the seventeenth century with some semblance of baroque court life.

It was a grandson of Prince Frederick Henry who, in 1689, ascended the throne of England as William III. He inherited the Beau Sancy and gave it to his consort, Queen Mary II, as a wedding gift. The couple were childless so the diamond came into the possession of another grandson of the Prince of Orange, Frederick III, Elector Prince of Brandenburg, who, in 1701, became King of Prussia under the name of Frederick I. Valued at 300,000 Reichstalers, the Beau Sancy became the most important stone in the Crown Jewels of Prussia and was set in the royal crown. In an inventory of the crown jewels made in 1913 the diamond featured as the pendant to a necklace of 22 diamonds, part of a diamond suite which also included a large breast ornament, a pair of earrings and a fan.

David Bennett, Sotheby's Chairman, Europe & the Middle East - Jewelry, discusses the Beau Sancy

The Beau Sancy is was in the possession of the head of the house of Hohenzollern, Prince Louis-Ferdinand of Prussia, grandson of William II, the last Emperor of Germany, until May 2012 when it was put up for auction at Sotheby's Geneva as part of their May 14th, 2012 sale "Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels" (sale GE1202), figuring as lot 595. Sometime before the auction the diamond was submitted to the Gemological Institute of America and found to weigh 34.98 modern metric carats. Its color was graded as K (faint brown), SI1 clarity, good polish, fair symmetry, no fluorescence, with dimensions of 22.78 x 19.58 x 10.98 mm. GIA described it as a Modified Pear Double Rose Cut. Report #1142121953. The stone has some bruises and chips but this isn't surprising considering its great age. The stone was also found to be a Type IIa diamond.

The stone had an estimate of 1,850,000 to 3,650,000 Swiss francs ($1,980,055 to $3,906,595 US). I was personally guessing it would sell for about $6 to $7 million. Lo and behold! In the event it sold for 9,042,500 Swiss francs ($9,678,188 US). According to the New York Daily News, five different bidders spanning three continents bid on the stone, the winning bid coming from an anonymous telephone bidder.

Source: Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour
Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewelry - 1381 to 1910 by Herbert Tillander
Thomas Cletscher's Sketchbook, published in the 1600s
Sotheby's Auction House
The New York Daily News