As one of the most glamorous debutantes of the 1920s (she was often mentioned in society columns and photographed by Cecil Beaton), Anne Messel, the future Countess of Rosse, was known for her impeccable style (she famously had a tradition of writing a note about how she felt wearing a certain garment before storing it away). Now, two of her most prized jewels are set to go up for auction at Bonhams, almost three decades after her death.
The pieces included in Bonhams’ London Jewels sale on 28 April are a late 19th century emerald, pearl and diamond bangle, estimated to be worth between £20,000-£30,000, and a mid-19th century onyx cameo, enamel, pearl and diamond bracelet, estimated to be worth £15,000-£20,000, and which also once belonged to Adrian Hope of the famous Anglo-Dutch banking dynasty.
‘The Countess of Rosse was a woman of exquisite taste, and the two pieces offered in the sale clearly express this,’ said Emily Barber, Head of Bonhams Jewellery Department. ‘The mid-19th century onyx cameo, enamel, pearl and diamond bracelet in particular, is very special – having also formerly been in the collection of Adrian Hope, whose great-niece, Lady Beatrice Lister Kaye, wore it at her wedding in 1880. In 1935, it featured at another wedding, when Michael Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse, himself a descendent of the illustrious Hopes gave it to his bride, the then Anne Armstrong-Jones. The bracelet is a fitting marriage token; the lion proffering its paw to Eros is an allegory, expressing that love conquers all.’
Messel grew up in the bucolic surroundings of the Nymans estate in Sussex, the granddaughter of the famous Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne. She went on to marry Ronald Armstrong-Jones in 1925, before divorcing him and remarrying the following year, this time to Michael Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse, moving with him to Birr Castle in Ireland. The couple had two sons.
Her son from her first marriage, Antony Armstrong-Jones, married Princess Margaret in 1960, with the Countess famously wearing the Rosse family diamond and emerald parure, comprising a tiara, necklace and earrings, to the wedding (her oyster-coloured silk brocade coat was also reportedly deemed an unusual choice for the Mother of the Groom). She was recently portrayed in season two of The Crown by actress Anna Chancellor, with Peter Morgan focussing on the estrangement between mother and son, and her enthusiasm for his royal wedding.
One of the founders of the Victorian Society (which encouraged the preservation and study of art and architecture from the period), her appreciation for culture and the arts was shared by her brother, the celebrated theatrical designer Oliver Messel, as well as her son, who became a noted society photographer, and her grandchildren, David Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto, who also pursued artistic careers. She was also known for her love of fashion, collecting pieces by designers including Charles James, Pucci, Molyneux and Schiaparelli, with some of her dresses by the former appearing in a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition in 2014.
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