Antiques Roadshow: Diamonds link to illicit Russian royal love affair

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Antiques Roadshow jewels suggest lesbian love affair for Lady Zia Wernher, descendant of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich

The jewels hinted at a lesbian love affair with a member of the Russian royal family (Picture: BBC)

Antiques Roadshow was treated to the story of an illicit love affair connected to the Russian royal family, courtesy of two pieces of diamond jewellery handed down by a family’s generations.

The programme’s guest brought the two stunning pieces – a diamond and amethyst ring and a platinum, diamond and pearl brooch – as well as the story of a 35-year friendship between a distant aunt and a descendant of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, Lady Zia Wernher, also known as Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby, CBE.

She also brought the jewels, with an estimated worth of £13,000, to the show in rather ‘modest packaging’.

‘I understand that you’ve bought me two royal jewels in a carrier bag today!’ exclaimed expert Geoffrey Munn, before the collector explained that her grandmother had shown her the jewels while she worked on her family tree during lockdown.

The pieces were accompanied by a note that had always been with them, explaining that they had been given by Mikhailovich, the brother-in-law and advisor of Emperor Nicholas II, to his descendant Lady Zia, Countess Torbay, who had in turn given them to the guest’s great-great-great aunt Mary.

The collector said: ‘We were told that she [Mary] went down to London to work for or with Lady Zia, and we were told that they were very good friends for 35 years.’

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An amethyst and diamond ring and a pearl, diamond and platinum brooch from the Russian royal family

The items which were worth around £13k (Picture: BBC)

Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia with her husband Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich and her brother Tsar Nicholas II, 1897

Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, Lady Zia’s direct descendant, with his wife Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia and her brother Tsar Nicholas II, 1897 (Picture: Laski Diffusion/Getty Images)

Antiques Roadshow guest explains the story of her distant aunt and Lady Zia Wernher

The story had been shared during a lockdown family tree project (Picture: BBC)

She agreed when Geoffrey declared it must have been a ‘very unusual friendship’, likely romantic, given the meaning and worth of the jewels.

‘There’s a clue in the jewel that it could have been romantic too because the amethyst stands for devotion in the law of lapidary, and diamonds are forever, so forever devotion is wrapped up in the meaning of this jewel here,’ he explained, gesturing to the ring, which he dated from about 1880.

The note accompanying Lady Zia Wernher's jewels

The accompanying note which linked the jewels to Lady Zia Wernher (Picture: BBC)

He also praised the brooch as having been made with ‘the finest possible diamonds’ as well as likely originating in Paris in 1900.

Considering the hope that the guest would be able to verify the story and relationship, calling her ‘the perfect candidate to unravel this marvellous romantic story of one royal lady and her devoted friend’, Geoffrey valued the ring at £5k and the brooch, which he thought could be Van Cleef & Arpels or Tiffany, at £7k-8k.

Geoffrey than added a fun personal anecdote to the story, sharing that he had met Lady Zia himself, at the age of 19 in 1977, and that he had been ‘only one touch away from these things and that was a thrill for me’.

Antiques Roadshow airs Sundays at 8pm on BBC One.

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