Are you ready for a bedtime story? Cuddle down with your favorite blankie, have a favorite libation handy, and get ready for a tale full of tragedy, romance and danger.
On December 24, 1837 a beautiful duchess was born in a castle in Bavaria. She was nicknamed “Sisi” (from Elisabeth) and had three siblings. At the age of fifteen she accompanied her mother and older sister, Helene, on a trip to Austria for Helene to meet her intended spouse. The intended, Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, fell for young and lovely Elisabeth instead. They married a scant year later in Vienna when Elisabeth was sixteen.
This promising beginning quickly eroded with tragedy. The death of Sophie, their eldest daughter, at the age of two broke the young mother’s heart. A rift quickly grew between Elisabeth and Franz compounded by a domineering mother-in-law. Although Elisabeth bore three more children (Gisela, Rudolf, and Marie-Valerie) her influence was limited. Due to her sadness and frustration she chose to travel extensively rather than lead a stifled existence in the Hapsburg court.
Elisabeth focused on what she could control: herself. She went to extremes to maintain her ravishing beauty; starving herself to maintain her 20 inch waistline and going to such extremes that she was often emaciated. She also spent hours daily on her hair and beauty regimen. The newspapers of the day were fascinated by her; speculating on her rumored lovers and reporting on her fashion acquisitions. Unfortunately, young Elisabeth could not achieve a reconciliation with her husband and therefore saw little of her children. (It amazes me how there is so little new under the sun. There are so many parallels to the life of Princess Diana and other young and beautiful women in the public eye.) She eventually was instrumental in the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire due to her fascination with all things Hungarian.
This famous portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria was painted in 1865 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (you can visit it at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna). You see the lovely pearl and diamond stars in her hair? They were made by Koechert, the Chamber Jeweler for the Hapsburg Imperial Family. A.E. Koehchert is a famous jewelry house that began almost 200 years ago and is still in existence today.
Tragedy struck in 1889. Rudolf, Elisabeth’s only son and heir to the throne died in a rumored murder/suicide pact with his mistress Maria Vetsera. This is known historically as the Mayerling Incident. The story is that he was told by his father, the Emperor, that he needed to quit the affair and focus on providing an heir to the throne with his wife. Rather than comply Rudolf and Maria concoted a plan to never be apart again.
Elisabeth continued to travel more than ever, trying to outrun her heartbreak. One bright spot was that her relationship with her husband improved thanks to an affectionate correspondence. In 1898 an insane young anarchist stabbed Elisabeth in the heart as she waited to board a steamship at Lake Geneva. When he learned of her death the Emperor reportedly was heard to say, “She will never know how much I loved her”. Pull out your hanky, dear reader. That is Romantic with a capital R. So much unfulfilled longing! So much tragedy! So many nefarious characters and dubious deeds! *sigh*
But the drama continues! How can it? you ask. All the principals are long dead. But this is the beauty of jewelry… it continues long after the wearer is gone. In 1998 a very sophisticated criminal mastermind named Gerald Blanchard toured Schönnbrun Palace with his wife and father-in-law. He surreptiously recorded the layout of the castle and purchased a souvenir copy of the “Star of Empress Sisi”. Several nights later he parachuted out of a small plane and broke into the palace, stealing the star (one of the very same stars from the portrait) and replacing it with the cheap copy. (Very Mission Impossible if you ask me.) This was a tragedy for Austria. The other stars have been disseminated over the years to family members etc and this priceless jewel is an invaluable piece of Austrian history. In 2009 Blanchard confessed and the famed Koechert jewel, the “Star of Sisi,” was returned home.
Wow, don’t you think? This historical tale knocked my socks off. Now I have a treat for you.
Don’t you love it? I know you do. I also know you are wondering what on earth this delicious bangle has to do with Elisabeth.
Have you figured it out yet?
It is a 14k yellow gold swirl motif hinged bangle with cabochon amethysts and six sweet little rubies. It is signed “A.E. Koechert” and was made in Austria.
I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of Koechert. I LOVE that I learned something new. I LOVE that their jewelry is so fabulous. And I LOVE this bangle! And I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed telling it to you.