The Baird Jewels and Archive (19 September 2003)

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Date of Auction: 19th September 2003


Estimate: £18,000 - £22,000

“The Baird Jewel”: Sir David Baird’s magnificent Imperial Ottoman Order of the Crescent badge

Fashioned as an oval diamond pendant, mounted in gold and silver set with a large red polished oval glass cabochon foiled in ruby-red and applied with diamond silver-set star and crescent, the cabachon within a border of small uniform-size old-cut diamonds and further set in a pierced lozenge frame of matching old-cut stones within an outer hoop of larger diamonds additionally decorated with four raised diamond epaulette motifs at the cardinal points; together with a detachable diamond scrolling pendant loop and small gold brooch fitting, approximately 15.75 carats in total, 58mm. max. width, 87mm. overall height, including suspension device, contained in a fitted blue velvet case,
extremely fine

Although the outer frame of the badge is of classic nineteenth century design and workmanship, circa 1875, the glass cabachon centre, the applied crescent and star, and the immediate diamond surround border are certainly earlier, the stones differing in their cut and shape from the vast majority of the stones in the outer frame while the cut-down silver collet settings also conform to 18th / early 19th century design


In light of the earlier constituents of this badge’s centre, some truth may exist in the family tradition that it was actually made from the stone of the ‘large ruby ring’ awarded to Sir David Baird on the Seringapatam prize list in 1799, the so-called ruby famously turning out to be a large piece of coloured glass.

Family tradition also has it that Baird’s magnificent diamond-set badge was re-modelled in Victorian times to become a more readily wearable object for the Ladies of the family, in the form of “The Baird Jewel” as we see it today. Nonetheless, it can truly be said that no finer Crescent badge has yet appeared at auction, and certainly not with such an illustrious provenance.

Other insignia of the Order of the Crescent awarded to Sir David Baird was sold by Sotheby’s in London on 12 September 1989 (Lot 373 - see illustration), being described as a Knight’s First Class set of insignia. Interestingly, the relevant sash badge was of plain gold in the form of a Medal of the Order, thereby strengthening the contention that Sir David was presented with, or chose to commission, a more elaborate and valuable badge.

In his
Concise Account of the Several Foreign Orders and Other Marks of Honourable Distinction conferred on British subjects, Carlisle actually credits Baird with receiving insignia of the Second Class, the design of which remains in question to this day:

‘David Baird, Esq., Major General of His Majesty’s Forces, “to receive and wear The Badge of The Order of The Crescent, which The Grand Seignior hath conferred upon him” - Royal Licence, 31st December 1803.’

A Brief History of the Imperial Ottoman Order of the Crescent

Following Lord Nelson’s defeat of the French fleet at the battle of the Nile in August 1798, the Grand Seignior of the Ottoman Empire, Selim III, wrote to the British Minister of the Sublime Porte (Ottoman Court), stating that it was his intention to reward those officers who had made this ‘joyful event’ possible. Such rewards normally took the form of personal gifts, as in the case of Lord Nelson receiving a splendid Diamond Aigrette and a Sable Fur with broad sleeves, but given the number of potential recipients on this occasion, the British Minister humbly recommended that Selim might consider instituting a special Order of Chivalry based on European precedents, a proposal that was ultimately accepted. To begin with, however, Lord Nelson appears to have been the only recipient of the newly established Order, being graded a ‘Knight Companion of the Imperial Ottoman Order of the Crescent’.

It was not until the crowning defeat of the French army in Egypt in 1801, which achievement of course included Sir David’s famous desert march, that the Order was awarded in more significant numbers, and related Medals of gold and silver introduced, the former in four grades. Exactly when the Order fell into abeyance remains unknown, but in all probability very few men were so honoured after Selim III’s death in 1807. Added to which, it was never awarded to Turkish subjects.

Regrettably no account appears to have survived of the manner in which Sir David received his insignia, Theodore Hook referring only to a meeting with the Pacha on 15 May 1802, at which Baird was presented with a magnificent sabre and silver saddle (see vol. 2, pp. 57-58). However, an entertaining description of the investiture of some Naval recipients appeared in
The Naval Chronicle of 1802:

‘On the morning of 8th [October 1801], the Admiral, accompanied by the Turkish Admiral of the Gallies, and suite, and those Officers of the Navy who had been particularly selected, proceeded from General Hutchinson’s tent, to the tent of His Highness the Captain [Capitan] Pacha, and were received by the whole Turkish line, under arms, with music playing and colours flying. When we alighted and approached the tent (which was open in the front), we observed the Captain Pacha (seated upon a maginificent sopha), attended by the Pacha of Egypt, the Chief General of His Highness’s Army, and Reis Effendi. The three latter were seated on each side of the sopha; The Admiral on the right of the Captain Pacha. The Generals of the Turkish army and navy stood at the back of our chairs; behind them were ranged His Highness’s retinue, arrayed in their different badges of distinction; and round the tent, in front, were drawn up his bodyguard.

His Highness was dressed in a white robe of beautiful satin, over which was the robe of state, worn only on particular occasions, made of the finest red cloth, and on it was placed, below the breast, two aigrettes of large diamonds; and in a sash of rich satin, round his waist, was a fixed dagger, the handle of which was so thickly covered with diamonds, as to render it impossible to discover of what other materials it was made. On his head he wore a superb turban, with rows of pearls placed on the different folds. His rich dress, his venerable appearance, having a long black beard, which he was continually stroking, altogether a most interesting figure. The other Grandees that were seated on the same sopha were as magnificently dressed in all respects, excepting the red robe.

Having first been served with coffee and sweetmeats according to custom, the ceremony began by His Highness investing the Admiral with a Pellice, the Star and Red Ribband, and the Medal of the Order of the Crescent; all of which being properly arranged, he was desired to kneel, at which time the Grand Seignior’s Firman edict was read, empowering his Highness to confer the honour of Knighthood, which was immediately performed on the Admiral, upon whose rising a royal salute was fired, and other demonstrations of satisfaction agreeable to the Turkish custom. The Star is most beautifully set with diamonds, and the Pellice is valued at £300.

The Admiral having retired to his seat, the senior Post Captain was invested in the same form with the Pellice and Gold Medal of the Order, and was knighted, and then the three other Captains in succession. Four Masters and Commanders, and Lieutenant Withers, were then knighted in the same manner, but only received a Gold Medal of the Order, without the Pellice vide ‘Medal Roll’ for the recipients. The same ceremony had been performed on General Hutchinson, and the General Officers of the Army, the day before [Baird was absent, being encamped at El Hamed]

General Hutchinson and Sir Richard Bickerton are invested with the first Order of the Crescent. The other General Officers, Post Captains, and Masters and Commanders, are of the second Order, there being only two Orders [Classes or Degrees].

During the whole of the ceremony music was playing. After the ceremony finished, a long history was read, stating the power and magnificence of the Grand Seignor, and consequently the value we were to set upon the different honours conferred. That finished, we were treated with Sherbet; we then arose dressed in our finery, and departed on our horses in the same form we came; at which time another salute was fired.

This ceremony was performed on the spot where the battle of the 21st March 1801 was fought, which decided the fate of Egypt.’


Carlisle, N.,
Concise Account of the Several Foreign Orders and Other Marks of Honourable Distinction Especially Conferred upon British Subjects (London, 1839), pp. 200-208

Douglas-Morris, Captain K.J., R.N.,
Naval Medals 1793-1856 (London , 1987), pp. 107-113

Imperial Ottoman Insignia
(pubd. The Armoury of St. James’s, London, 1996)

The Naval Chronicle
(London, 1807), vol. 7, p. 353