Jewels of the Royal World · Spain

Tiara Tales – La Rusa

We are taking a quick break from Designer Diaries to do a deep dive into this fascinating tiara. Thank you to Iselen for this riveting post! This has it all: broken marriages, revolution, intrigue, and drama. You won’t be disappointed.

The Spanish Royal House has never clarified the origin of any jewel officially, a decision that has caused a lot of headaches for researchers delving into the palace archives and leads to endless speculation. It also creates a mystery that captivates all experts in royal jewels.

La Rusa is one of those sparkling beauties that have been driving researchers crazy for a long time. Usually known as “The Cartier Loop” on internet sites, Spaniards prefer the name her first owner chose, “The Russian” or “La Rusa”. This is because it’s not a Cartier tiara, definitely.

Queen Sofia wearing La Rusa

We always suspected the Cartier attribution was a mistake made by a researcher when he reviewing old inventories, started by one of those “famous experts” everybody quotes as a source but no one dares to correct. Now the error has been confirmed by Amelia Aranda Huete, who searched the palace archives thoroughly and published her work in 2019.

Ms. Huete’s doctorate thesis was on the jewels of King Felipe V and Isabella Farnese. She also wrote books and articles about Queen Maria Cristina’s jewels, Infanta Eulalia’s tiaras, and the House of Ansorena. She’s the curator of the Silverware and Watches collection of the Royal Palace of La Almudaina and has been bringing a lot of satisfaction and amazing surprises to royal jewels experts in all of her lectures during the past year. Unfortunately, all of them are in Spanish. I guess this is why English sites keep calling the tiara “The Cartier Loop”. 

Queen Maria Cristina wearing La Rusa

The facts we know are these: the tiara was commissioned by Queen Maria Cristina of Spain in the late 1800s after her husband King Alfonso XII’s death. It was “in a Russian Kokoshnik style” that was very popular back then. We have one invoice that describes this tiara perfectly, found by Amelia Aranda:

To Francisco Marzo (very famous Spanish jeweler and diamond cutter): 20, February. 1886. Diamond and pearl tiara for the Queen. 22,637 pesetas and 50 cents. A Russian leather case for this tiara with the royal crown stamped in gold. 200 pesetas. AGP, AG, leg. 5263.

AGP: Palace General Archive. AG: General house management. Leg: file, record, dossier. The Peseta was the Spanish monetary unit before the Euro.

When the Queen died in 1929, there was this entry in the inventory: tiara embellished with 27 pearls and diamonds, the one the Queen commissioned to Marzo. 28,000 pesetas. So… no mention of Cartier anywhere. But there was a Russian leather case for a Russian-style tiara, hence the popular name of this jewel, La Rusa.

Queen Maria Cristina wearing La Rusa

When Cartier brought their exhibition to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in 2012, they asked Queen Sofia to lend them the pearl and diamond Cartier tiara that belonged to Queen Ena, but never asked her to lend them La Rusa despite its status as a big gun, too. That was the unofficial confirmation that proved Cartier didn’t make this tiara, and some researchers started to speculate that it was a Chaumet. However, per Amelia Aranda Huete’s research, we know it was actually a Marzo piece.

Francisco Marzo (he died in 1891) was the Assistant of the Royal Jewel Keeper of His Majesty from 1875, and later the Jewel Keeper of the Princes of Asturias from 1886. His first big tiara commission was the one made of diamonds and pearls Alfonso XII gave to his first wife, María de las Mercedes of Orléans, as a wedding gift. After the first wife’s death, it was dismantled to make a tiara for the King’s sister, Infanta Eulalia. Marzo also designed all the presents for the King’s second wife, Queen María Cristina: a ducal crown, tiara, necklace, brooch, and two bracelets. Marzo then designed the wedding presents for Infanta Paz, one of Alfonso’s other sisters. Marzo formed a partnership with jewelers García and Florez to sell jewels and silverware but died soon after. 

King Alfonso XIII inherited La Rusa directly from his mother Maria Cristina in a tumultuous time for Spain. His marriage to Queen Ena was already broken, and the monarchy was in disarray. Queen Ena and King Alfonso fled the country in 1931 after the proclamation of the Republic. We know they both packed in a hurry, throwing brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and tiaras into the bags carelessly, leaving behind the empty leather cases because that was all the republicans found when they stormed into the palace. She went to London and later to Switzerland, carrying most of the royal jewels with her. He went to Rome, with La Rusa in his suitcase. Thus, Ena never wore the tiara and couldn’t add it to the Joyas de Pasar, even though it’s a very important tiara for the family.

Princess Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon Two-Sicilies and Orleans

King Alfonso XIII decided to give La Rusa, the only “big gun” in his possession, to his new daughter-in-law, Princess Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon Two-Sicilies and Orleans, as a wedding present. He couldn’t give her La Buena, since that tiara and many other royal jewels were in Switzerland with Ena. Alfonso XIII didn’t speak to his estranged wife and never met her again in person.

However, he had a dilemma in gifting La Rusa: you can’t hand such a beautiful jewel just like that: “Here, catch it!” Alfonso needed a leather case, but the old one was in Spain. He commissioned a new one from Chaumet, the French house that also cleaned and fixed the tiara, which then arrived to the future Countess of Barcelona in pristine condition. Again, no sign of Cartier. Chaumet has been in charge of the maintenance of this tiara since 1935 and some authors have speculated that the tiara could’ve been made by this house until Amelia Aranda confirmed it was made by Marzo.

Princess Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon Two-Sicilies and Orleans

The Countess of Barcelona considered this tiara one of her favorites. She lent it to Queen Sofia to go to the Shah of Persia’s party in Persepolis, she lent it to her daughter infanta Pilar to get married, and to her granddaughter Simoneta Gómez-Acebo for her wedding. Since it’s not part of the Joyas de Pasar set, her three children inherited it. Note it was inherited by all three of them, not only Infanta Pilar. Infanta Margarita and King Juan Carlos owned it too. But the King didn’t wear tiaras and infanta Margarita wasn’t fond of larger diadems, prefering to wear a small one made with two old brooches. This is why everybody thought it was Pilar’s property and Juan Carlos had to buy it. In reality, he only bought 2/3 of the tiara because he was already the owner of 1/3.

Queen Sofía wore the tiara for the first time in 2006 to visit Norway, six years after the Countess of Barcelona died. I speculate that Juan Carlos had to reach an agreement with his sisters, then find the cash needed, and arrange to pay the taxes. It takes a little time to do the paperwork. Letizia wore it for the first time in 2018 to attend a gala dinner with the President of China.

Queen Letizia

We still don’t know what the plans for the Spanish Royal Family jewels will be but we suspect, given the problems they have been facing lately and King Felipe’s obsession with transparency, that Queen Sofia has already passed the “big guns” to Letizia. The tiara, along with some personal jewels the new Queen wears often should have been transferred properly and Felipe has already paid the taxes. When she was Princess of Asturias, Letizia only wore jewels that belonged to Queen Sofia and not a single one that came from Juan Carlos. It was only months after becoming Queen when she started to wear Joyas de Pasar. Whether that was the moment when King Felipe paid the taxes or maybe established a foundation in a Swedish style, is not known. The current King and Queen have to be very careful and make things super legal. The Royal House can’t afford another problem concerning money.

The good news is that this tiara, even if it’s not part of the Joyas de Pasar set, will stay in the Spanish Royal Family. If things weren’t clear, Letizia wouldn’t wear La Rusa publicly. 

Any other tiaras you would like to see get the “Tiara Tales” treatment? Let us know. Let us know also if you are the one with the inside tiara scoop, we’ll help you write the post!