This is one of the most famous portraits of the empress Sisi painted in 1865 by the most sought-after portrait painter of European nobility Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Sisi, who was one of the great beauties of her time, appears in a white satin and tulle dress with naked shoulders and her hair, weaved into a sophisticated coiffure, is decorated with nine diamond stars.
„Sisi-Stern“ – Sisi’s star became a very popular jewel. There are 46 brilliants on each of the original stars which are seen on the painting. It is not clear when exactly they were designed but it is sure that they were designed by Alexander Köchert, jeweller to the Imperial and Royal Court.
The jewelry, registered in 1814, does exist till the present days – in the very heart of Vienna (Neuer Markt 15) in the house which was projected by the famous architect Theophil Hansen. It is still in the hands of the family Köchert. There are not so many companies in the world like that. As the only one from Austria the company is a member of the Association Les Hénokiens – an exclusive association of companies who have been continuously operating and have remained family owned for at least 200 years. Christoph Köchert who guided us through his kingdom belongs to the sixth generation already.
The word “kingdom” is proper. There are framed designs of necklaces, tiaras, earrings, diadems and other jewels on the walls, even some crowns, which used to be worn by different crowned heads. They have more than ten thousand such designs in their archive and also some still preserved exemplars in the safe. Many figures known from Austrian history used to order jewels here, even the prince Metternich had ordered a bracelet for his secret mistress Dorothea von Lieven here. But one of the most regular clients was the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph who was ordering jewels not only for his wife Sisi but also for his children and grandchildren for their birthdays, weddings or christenings. And also for the second important woman in his life – the actress Katharina Schratt who was well known for her affection to precious jewels. And the emperor was well known for his generosity. Even Katharina’s son could afford a good life during the hard postwar period because he had sold some of his mother’s jewels.
However, the jeweller Köchert did not only supply the court with his jewels he also took care of the most precious pieces, some of them are still to be seen in the treasury in the Hofburg. If the empress wanted to have some jewel for a ball, he went to the treasury, took out the piece, checked it and signed the “lending” document. After the ball he checked the jewel again, treated it if necessary and put it back to the treasury.
But back to the stars. 27 pieces of different size and style were made for Sisi. The empress could wear them not only in her hair, but also on colliers and diadems or as brooches. Very soon they became a fashion hit. There were always many ladies who tried to copy the empress’ hair, dress, jewels… And because those stars are timeless even today they are very popular – as hairpins or pendants, earrings, brooches etc. At Köchert’s you can get the most expensive of the stars, made exactly like the originals, for 14.800 € ! Some cheaper pieces are available by other producers.
And what happened to the original stars? There are eight pieces remaining to the present days – a bigger one is in the possession of the direct descendants of Sisi, another seven stars, even in the original box, belong to the family of one of the closest personal assistant of the empress – most probably Maria Festetics. It was very common for Sisi to give everything, including her expensive jewels, to her confidants whenever she suffered a depression.
Next time you go to Neuer Markt, which by the way is one of the oldest squares in Vienna, at least have a look at the Köchert shop windows. Besides beautiful modern jewels you will certainly see Sisi’s stars as well.