The term "parure" (pah-rur), meaning adornment in French, entered the vocabulary of technical terms used in describing jewelry, in the 17th-century, and was used in reference to a set of three or more matching pieces of jewelry, made up of the same type of gemstones and having similar design features. Eventually as time passed, the meaning of the word expanded to include an entire wardrobe or suite of matching jewelry, which became a status symbol for the aristocracy and the upper classes of society. Such a suite would have included a diadem. tiara, bandeau, comb, necklace, earrings, stomacher, brooch, bracelets and rings. History records, that Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte lavished such expensive parures on his beloved first wife Josephine, whom he was forced to divorce as she could not bear him a male heir, and later his second wife Marie Louise, who bore him the much-desired male heir, but later deserted him after his downfall and eventual exile. As time passed the term "demi-parure" also entered the jewelry vocabulary, and was used to refer to just two pieces of matching jewelry, such as a necklace and matching pair of earrings, necklace and matching pair of bracelets, etc.
As the name indicates,the exquisitely crafted emerald and diamond necklace and matching pair of emerald and diamond drop-earrings, which constituted a demi-parure, was acquired by Countess Alina de Romanones in the 1960s. The Countess, who was born as Marie Aline Griffith Dexter in Pearl River, New York, worked for the CIA's predecessor OSS, in Madrid, Spain, during World War II, before marrying a Spanish nobleman, the Count of Quintanilla in 1947. Apart from the emerald and diamond demi-parure, other jewels from the collection of the Countess that came up for auction at the Sotheby's Geneva Sale on May 17, 2011, were a ruby and diamond necklace/brooch combination from the 1970s, a pair of ruby and diamond pendant earrings from the 1950s, and a "Cadenas" diamond bracelet/watch gifted to the Countess by the Dutchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, symbolizing their close relationship.
The demi-parure consisted of two matching components :-
1) An emerald and diamond necklace
2) A pair of emerald and diamond drop earrings.
The necklace consists of 12 oval-shaped cabochon-cut emeralds of various sizes, surrounded by a single row of small brilliant-cut diamonds, set on two chains of small brilliant-cut diamonds, that constitute the necklace, with a large oval-shaped, cabochon-cut emerald, also surrounded by a single row of small diamonds, hanging as a pendant from the centerpiece of the necklace, which is another large oval shaped emerald surrounded by a row of diamonds. Emeralds of similar size and shape are placed in symmetrical positions on either side of the median line of the necklace. The size of the emeralds gradually decrease towards the rear of the necklace. Out of the 13 emeralds in the necklace, 6 emeralds in the front are large, 4 emeralds in the middle are medium-sized and the 3 emeralds on the rear are the smallest. The largest emerald in the necklace is the one incorporated in the pendant, followed by the one on the centerpiece. The length of the necklace is approximately 54 cm. The central drop or the pendant is detachable and could be worn as a dress clip or brooch.
Countess Alina de Romanones emerald and diamond demi-parure
The emeralds on the necklace seem to be of very good color, clarity and transparency, characteristics of high quality emeralds originating from Colombia. The deep herbal green color of the emeralds, and their good clarity and transparency due to lesser number of inclusions, are characteristics of the highest quality Muzo emeralds, the yardstick or standard for comparing other emeralds. Given the fact that the necklace originated in the 1960s, it is possible that the emeralds originated in the Muzo emerald mines situated at the northwestern end of the Colombian emerald belt in the Andes, where production in the mines had been taking place intermittently ever since Colombia gained independence from the Spanish in 1819. Muzo still continues to produce some good quality emeralds where production is taking place in underground shafts, developed by companies like Tecminas and Coesminas, who had taken out 10-year leases. Origin of the emeralds however, can only be confirmed by the inclusions present. Muzo emeralds have characteristic three-phase inclusions, such as trapped fluid containing gas, fluid only, and crystals of halite and calcite and yellow-brown needles of parisite.
The pair of emerald and diamond drop earrings matches the necklace both in terms of design and materials used. The identical design features include a row of brilliant-cut diamonds surrounding the cabachon-cut emeralds, and the use of the double row diamond chain for the drop. Each of the drop earrings has a large oval-shaped cabochon-cut emerald surrounded by a row of diamonds, suspended by a double row diamond chain, serving as the drop, from the earstud, set with a smaller spherical-shaped cabochon-cut emerald, also surrounded by a row of diamonds and carrying the screw that fixes to the ear lobe. The size of the emeralds used in the drop is almost equivalent to the medium-sized emeralds in the necklace, and the smaller spherical emeralds are comparable in size to the smallest emeralds in the necklace.
The history of the Countess Alina de Romanones Emerald and Diamond Demi-Parure is closely interlinked with the colorful history of the Countess herself, who led a life of adventure, mystery and glamour normally associated with international spies of her calibre, and gave her the opportunity to socialize with the elite of Spanish society including the aristocracy, that eventually led to her marriage to Don Luis de Figueroa y Perez de Guzmán el Bueno, Count of Quintanilla in 1947. Her husband subsequently inherited the title of Count of Romanones after the death of his father, Count Luis de Figueroa y Alonso-Martinez, the Second Count of Romanones, and the ex-OSS spy became the Countess of Romanones, known in Spanish as Excelentísima Senorita Condesa vda. de Romanones. After marrying into the Spanish aristocracy, she rubbed shoulders with other members of the European aristocracy, world leaders and Hollywood celebrities, hosting some of the most lavish parties of the time, and herself became an international celebrity, following her multifarious interests and roles in life, as a successful businesswoman, historian, paleographist, political activist, world traveler, informal advisor to several governmental agencies, best-selling author of several novels both non-fiction and fiction, inspired by her own experience in espionage and intelligence, and finally a trend setter in the world of fashion, successfully maintaining her membership in the International Best Dressed List since 1962. Befitting her status as a Countess (Condesa) in the Spanish aristocracy, and her penchant for dressing impeccably to suit the occasion, Countess Alina de Romanones amassed a remarkable collection of jewelry,that included necklaces, brooches, earrings etc. incorporating precious gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies. One such exquisitely crafted set of jewelry was the Emerald and Diamond Demi-Parure, acquired by the Countess in the 1960s, the subject of this webpage, dedicated exclusively to this jewelry masterpiece.
Countess Alina de Romanones wearing the ruby and diamond necklace/brooch combination
Countess Alina de Romanones was born in 1923, as Mary Aline Griffith Dexter in Pearl River, New York, where her father worked as a real estate and insurance agent, while her mother remained as a housewife. After finishing her schooling, Miss Aline Griffith worked as a model at Hattie Carnegie's during the early years of World War II. In 1943, at the age of 20, Miss Aline is forced by another model friend to go on a double-date in Manhattan, during which she makes the acquaintance of a stranger, who happened to be a recruiter for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the forerunner of the present CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). This accidental meeting had a tremendous impact on her entire future life, helping her to embark on her chosen career of espionage, as an undercover agent for the OSS. She was recruited as an OSS-agent, based on her qualification in foreign languages, with a major in French and Spanish as subsidiary, and after a short period of training was posted to Madrid, Spain, in 1943, with specific instructions to infiltrate the high society of Madrid, including the Spanish aristocracy and report on the gossip she had overheard at their parties and social gatherings. This crucial assignment necessitated the development of an extensive social life, cultivating the friendship and acquaintance of the members of the high society of Spain and gaining their confidence, a task in which she really excelled, to the satisfaction of her superiors.
It was during a perilous assignment to track down a Nazi agent, she is said to have embarked on cat-and-mouse romance with Luis Figueroa y Perez de Guzmán el Bueno, the Count of Quintanilla. Their courtship lasted almost three years and was interrupted several times by secret missions, of which her fiancé was perhaps unaware, and learnt only after their engagement. The Count was vehemently opposed to his wife's secret missions, that might necessitate her exposure to potentially dangerous situations. In 1947, Mary Aline Griffith Dexter married the Count of Quintanilla, Luis Figueroa y Perez de Guzmán el Bueno at an impressive ceremony, hailed at that time as Spain's wedding of the year. Soon after her marriage in 1947, in accordance with the wishes of her husband, she resigned her job as an OSS-agent and concentrated on her new role as the Countess of Quintanilla, a title which she held from 1947 to 1963. In 1963 she became the Countess of Romanones, when her husband inherited the title of Count of Romanones, following the death of his father Count Luis de Figueroa y Alonso-Martinez, the Second Count of Romanones. Both the Count and Countess of Romanones rose into prominence as leading socialites in the Spanish aristocratic circles, hosting some of the most lavish parties at that time. Their marriage turned out to be a very happy and successful one, producing three sons, Alvaro (1949), Luis (1950) and Miguel (1951).
The Countess, being trained as a spy very early in life could not wait to return to her accustomed lifestyle, and resumed her job as an undercover agent in 1954. However, this time she left her husband largely uninformed about her new missions, as she felt it was unfair to give anxious moments to her husband who was not favorably disposed towards her risky life style. She said, "I thought, why burden him? In a way it was selfish. I was trained as a spy very early, and it became a part of me. I got accustomed to living with a certain amount of tension. I would have frightening encounters, and I would be quaking, and I could'nt tell Luis."
Most of the information on the Countess of Romanones involvement in espionage and intelligence and her exploits as an OSS and later CIA agent, is derived from her own accounts, as published in three of her non-fiction works, The Spy Wore Red (1987), The Spy Went Dancing (1990) and The Spy Wore Silk (1991).
In her first publication, The Spy Wore Red, Countess Romanones describes how she was recruited by the OSS while working as a model, trained in espionage and sent to Madrid, where she joins other OSS agents. She recalls her undercover exploits in Madrid, that included decoding secret messages, organizing a chain of women spies, mingling with members of the Spanish high society, to obtain vital information about Nazis and German sympathisers, and the infiltration of a German spy network, that threatened allied invasion plans. Apart from her undercover exploits, she also recalls her romances with a traitorous counter spy, a celebrated matador and encounters with a Spanish aristocrat, whom she later married. She gives details of her lifestyle among the rich and famous of Spain, lavish parties held in palaces and estates, which she never failed to attend, as she was expected to report on the gossip she overheard at these social events.
Following the success of her first book, The Spy Wore Red, a memoir of her World War II OSS adventures, that made international headlines and entered bestseller lists, the Countess of Romanones embarked on her second non-fiction publication, The Spy Went Dancing, a tale of danger and intrigue more exciting than the first, based on her experiences after she was called out of semi-retirement by the CIA in 1966, for a crucial mission to uncover a highly placed NATO mole, who pilfered NATO secrets and was a threat to US security. The Countess was given the code name "Tiger" for this mission and co-opted the services of a close and trusted friend, Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor to help make contact with the suspects in the NATO case. The Duchess, who was consumed by boredom in her Paris Villa, was delighted when the Countess sought her assistance, and agreed to help. The Duchess was code named "Willy" by the CIA. Both the Countess and the Duchess were compelled to keep their husbands in the dark, about their espionage activities. While the Duke and the Count discussed about golf in the sitting room of the Windsor's household, Aline and Wallis whispered in the bedroom about Operation Magic. The Countess also makes an effort in her book, to dispel rumours about the Windsors being Nazi sympathisers, and tries to restore the image of the Duchess as a patriotic American woman.
As Operation Magic progresses Countess Aline discovers that this assignment had also thrown open the doors, to complete one of the most frustrating missions of her wartime OSS career, the search for artworks stolen by the Nazis. The closer the Countess gets towards uncovering the mole, the more it became apparent that the two cases may be fatefully intertwined.
Aline, the Countess of Romanones was not a permanent agent of the CIA after she resumed her espionage activities in 1954, but was recalled from time to time to undertake crucial missions on behalf of the agency, when she was thought to be most appropriate choice to handle a particular mission, given her previous experience and her connections with the Spanish high society and aristocracy, which she had developed as a Spanish socialite. In 1966, she was recalled by the CIA to assist in Operation Magic, the uncovering of a NATO mole, that became the theme of her second book, The Spy Went Dancing. In 1971, "Tiger," the CIA code name for the Countess, was again recalled for another crucial mission that involved an attempt to thwart a planned assassination of King Hassan II of Morocco, which became the theme of her third non-fiction publication, The Spy Wore Silk, another tale of her real-life adventures as an undercover agent. As part of that plan the Countess induced her husband Luis to take her on a vacation to Morocco, where they became the guests of King Hassan II, enjoying the company of the King and his glittering court. While at Morocco, Aline searched for evidence to confirm rumours that the king would be the target of assassins, while ostensibly enjoying the country's exotic pleasures. The mission was indeed a dangerous one, that nearly cost her life and that of her colleague, Bill Casey, later head of the CIA. During the mission, the Countess also has several encounters with a KGB agent who fell in love with her, and perhaps was also ready to defect.
King Hassan of Morocco arrives for a visit to Washington D.C. on January 3, 1983
Their mission, however, could not prevent a coup-d'etat that took place on July 9, 1971, soon after the Countess and Bill Casey left Morocco, organized by General Madbouh and carried out by cadets during a function to celebrate the King's 42nd birthday. The King was arrested and imprisoned in a small pavilion. The rebels took over control of Rabat's main radio station, and broadcast false propangada that the King had been murdered and a republic founded. However, the coup ended the same day,when loyal troops stormed the palace and took control of it from the rebels. King Hassan II survived a second assassinaion attempt, on August 16, 1972, and went on to rule his country for over 38 years, until his death on July 23, 1999.
William J. Casey - 13th Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
The Countess began her writing career in 1987, the year her first book, "The Spy Wore Red" was published. This was an year before her husband, Count Luis de Figueroa y Perez de Guzman el Bueno died. The Countess says, writing about espionage has sustained her since the death of her husband, Luis in 1988. Speaking about epionage, she says, "Espionage becomes like a drug. It makes life very exciting. You know things other people don't know. You are always going under the surface." Speaking about her writing career, she says, "A writer is a kind of spy, an unconscious spy. You use everything that's ever happened to you, and you're never, ever bored." In that sense embarking on a writing career on espionage, has caused her to lead a double life again. In all she has written six books up to date, three books about her own experiences in espionage, listed above and considered as non-fiction; two fictions, "The Well Mannered Assassin" published in 1994 and based in part on Carlos-The Jackal, and "El fin de una era" (The End of an Era), published in Spain in 2010. She also wrote "The Earth Rests Lightly" in 1963, which tells the story of her painstaking restoration of Pascualete, the country estate of her husband's family, the Counts of Romanones.
Apart from the Countess Alina de Romanones Emerald and Diamond Demiparure, estimated at USD 103,000 to 147,000 and offered for sale at the Sotheby's Magnificent and Noble Jewels sale held at Geneva on May 17th 2011, other important jewels from the Countess of Romanones collection, that were also on offer at the auction, were a ruby and diamond necklace/brooch combination from the 1970s, estimated at USD 81,500 - 147,000, a pair of ruby and diamond pendant earrings from the 1950s,estimated at USD 15,000 to 20,000, and a Cadenas diamond bracelet/watch from 1936, signed by Van Cleef & Arpels, estimated at USD 49,900 - 68,500 and gifted to the Countess by the Duchess of Windsor, signifying the close relationship between the Countess and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This piece was originally purchased by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpon in 1936, and is engraved on the reverse with a fascimile of the Duke of Windsor's handwriting, then King Edward VIII :- "For their third anniversary, 12.III.36, and our Tub, 17.III.36.
Countess Alina de Romanones ruby and diamond necklace/brooch combination and matching pair of ruby and diamond pendant earrings
The most significant piece of noble jewel that appeared at this auction was a magnificent and extremely rare Emerald and Diamond Tiara, the most important tiara to have appeared at an auction in over 30 years with an estimate of USD 5-10 million, that was once the property of Princess Katharina, the second wife of Guido Count von Henckel, First Prince von Donnersmarck. Other noble jewels include pieces from the collection of the Duchess of Windsor, that was previously sold at the 1987 legendary Geneva Auction of "The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor" still the most valuable single-owner jewellery collection ever sold, and 19th-century pieces of jewelry from the Romantic period that belonged to the collection of Madame Moitessier (1821-1897). Among the Magnificent Jewels offered at the auction, were a collection of diamonds and colored gemstones, out of which the most important piece was a fancy intense pink diamond, with VS1 clarity, weighing 10.99 carats, with an estimate of USD 9-16 million. Among the period jewels offered at the auction, were fine exmples of Art Deco Jewelry. A range of signed jewels, created by the world's most famous jewelry houses, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Boucheron, etc. were also on offer.
A pre-sale estimate of 95,000 to 135,000 CHF equivalent to USD 103,000 to 147,000 was placed on the Countess Alina de Romanones Emerald and Diamond Demi-Parure. However, the price realized at the auction was 362,500 CHF (USD 394,700), nearly 2.7 times higher than the upper pre-sale estimate. The enhanced price realized was undoubtedly due to the quality of the emeralds in the demi-parure, coupled with the historic provenance associated with it.
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1) Sotheby’s Geneva, 17th May 2011, sale of Magnificent & Noble Jewels - Sotheby's Press Release.
2) Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
3) Countess Alina de Romanones - http://www.northwood.edu/includes/dw.asp?year=1982
4) Sotheby's to auction American WWII spy's jewels - abc News. abcnews.go.com
5) Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Sale, May 17, 2011 - Auction Catalogue. www.sothebys.com
Dr Shihaan Larif
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