The House of Savoy, the dynasty that ruled Italy during the beginning of the 20th century, were exiled from their country after World War II, but in 2002, they regained the ability to return. So far they haven’t been able to retrieve the crown jewels, 26 elaborate pieces encrusted with more than 6,000 diamonds and 2,000 pearls, which are currently sitting in a vault in the Bank of Italy. In November 2021, however, the Savoys formally declared ownership and began a legal process to secure their return. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reports that the first “mediation meeting” in the matter took place on Tuesday.
The jewels are estimated to be worth €300 million, or $334 million. “The Savoy family will get the jewels back,” the family lawyer Sergio Orlandi told the newspaper.
This week, the Telegraph spoke to Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, who is spearheading the quest for their return. “Italy should do what is right and fitting and restore the jewels to my family,” he said. “The monetary value of the jewels doesn’t interest us. What is more important is the historical and sentimental value that they have for the family.”
The Savoy dynasty began in the Western Alps in the 11th century, but they took over the Italian throne when the country was united in 1861. In the run-up to World War II, the reigning monarch, King Victor Emmanuel III, was allied with Benito Mussolini and after the country’s defeat at the hands of the Allied Forces, the Italian public abolished the monarchy by referendum.
The jewels have been in the vault since 1946, when Italy’s last king, Umberto II, deposited them with a note reading “To be returned to the rightful owner” soon before fleeing to Portugal. According to a 1976 report in the Guardian, they included pieces that were used for “state occasions” as well as pieces purchased for Umberto’s grandmother using state funds. In 2006, Italy’s current prime minister, Mario Draghi, began discussing the prospect of putting the jewels on display in his role as the head of the Bank of Italy, but the talks didn’t result in an exhibition.
It’s unclear what would happen to the jewels if the Savoy legal claim is successful. “We have to take this step by step. First, the Bank of Italy must return them and then the heirs of the royal family will decide what to do with them,” Emanuele, who is Umberto’s grandson, told the Telegraph. “The jewelry has been hidden away in a chest for more than 70 years. Unlike the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, these have never even been on display to the public. It is about time that they were returned to the heirs of the royal family.”
In 2006, his aunt Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy told Corriere della Sera that she thought the crown jewels were the private property of her family, but she did hope they would go on display. “My dream is that they will come to light at least for one exhibition; enriched by the royal robes and cloaks that I keep here in Geneva,” she said as she discussed her decision to sell some of the family’s other heirlooms at Christie’s.
Emanuele is an investment banker and television personality who was once a contestant on the Italian version of Dancing With the Stars. He also owns a pasta food truck in Los Angeles, and in 2020 announced his plans to run for political office in Italy. In May 2021, his daughter Princess Vittoria of Savoy, a Paris-based Instagram influencer, was named as the inheritor of his title, after a 2019 decree allowed women to take courtesy titles in the technically defunct Italian peerage.
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