Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Prince Albert Bracelet, 1844

Portrait Bracelet
Commissioned by Prince Albert, 1844
William Essex
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

William Essex (1784-1869), a well-known jeweler and miniaturist favored by the Court of Queen Victoria was commissioned in 1844 by Prince Albert to create a portrait bracelet for (one of) his Royal wife’s Christmas present that year.

The bracelet of gold and enamel consists of five gold knots and four enamel panels of York and Lancaster roses, each one surrounded by a Garter. The piece terminates in a watercolor on ivory portrait miniature of Prince Albert.

Albert (1819-1861) quite enjoyed designing jewelry for Queen Victoria—a fact which I exploit in Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square. However, he really did have a good head for such design work and also had a knack for incorporating sentiment into the pieces which he commissioned.

Prince Albert asked Essex to copy in miniature his countenance from Thorburn’s portrait of the prince in armor. That painting has been presented to the Queen as a birthday gift from Prince Albert that same year. She wrote in her journal on May 24, 1844 of Thorburn’s portrait:

“My beloved Albert is painted in armour, which I so much wished … I cannot say how beautiful it is, nor how exactly [it] portrays the dear original.”

The Prince Consort also cleverly incorporated into the bracelet the design of the collar of the Garter which had been made especially for Queen Victoria. Her Majesty was quite pleased with the bracelet and wrote in her journal on Christmas Eve that year:

“[Albert] took me to his room, where he gave me a most lovely bracelet, with his dear picture, also after Thorburn beautifully enamelled, set with a replica in small of the Collar of the Order of the Garter, in enamel work. It is his own exquisite taste & one of the loveliest things I ever saw. How I shall value it, & what extreme pleasure it gives. I put it on at once, & it was much admired.” 

By all accounts, the Queen really did favor the bracelet and wore it frequently. She is pictured wearing the piece in a watercolor by Carl Haag, “Evening at Balmoral Castle.”

"Evening at Balmoral Castle"
Carl Haag
Watercolor, 1854
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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