While we were in Paris this summer, the Musée de l’Armée had an exhibit, Napoleon and Europe. Part of the exhibit was the fabulous “Chaumet Crown” and the Ruby Parure for Archduchess Marie-Louis of Austria, Napoleon’s second wife. Chaumet traces its origins to 1780. Founded by Marie-Etienne Nitot who along with his son Francois-Regnault Nitot became the official jewelers to Napoleon I during the Consulate and the Empire. Napoleon was a real wife-pleaser, lavishing an avalanche of gemstones upon his lady-loves. In the autumn of 1810 an order was placed with the emperor’s favorite jeweler, François-Regnault Nitot, in honor of his new wife, Archduchess Marie-Louise of Habsburg, the daughter of Emperor Franz I of Austria and niece of Marie-Antoinette. During the autumn of 1810, Nitot, began crafting two new parures, one of emeralds and diamonds, the other of rubies and diamonds. The finished pieces were delivered to the emperor on January 16, 1811. The Ruby Parure set used nearly 400 rubies and more than 6,000 diamonds in all. Both Napoléon I and Napoleon III seemed to love jewels and lavished them on their companions. I thought a post would be a good opportunity to review the history of the French Crown Jewels during and after Napoléon I.
The French Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792 when the Garde Meuble (Royal Treasury) was stormed by rioters. Most, though not all, of the Crown Jewels were recovered eventually. Neither the Sancy Diamond nor the French Blue Diamond were found in the years after, however. The Royal French Blue is believed to have been recut, and it is now known as the Hope Diamond. The Royal Treasury was later reconstituted by Napoléon, who as Emperor, wished to surround his court with an aura of brilliance and, in so doing, revive artistic skills which had languished during the Revolutionary period. Stimulated by his patronage, jewelers trained to the high standards of the eighteenth century created magnificent parures (matching suites) which asserted the authority of the new order. In the famous painting of Napoléon crowning Josephine by David from 1807, you can see that all of the women are wearing tiaras, Napoleon’s court must have been a glittering sight to see.
Napoléon’s first wife Josephine was literally smothered in tiaras and jewels. I have picked three choice pieces although there are many more. The ring that young Napoléon gave to Josephine for their engagement in 1776 was sold at auction recently for $949,000, not including commission and other fees. The winning bid was almost 50 times the $20,000 estimate that the auction house expected it to bring in. The auction was held in March 2013 at Fontainebleu in honor of the 250th anniversary of Josephine’s birth. The 18th century ring was described as a “simple” band decorated with two pear-shaped gems, a blue sapphire and diamond, which face opposite directions. For $99 you can get your own copy of the ring from Stauer. The diamond tiara shown above was originally made for Napoléon and Josephine Bonaparte‘s coronation in 1804. The diamond tiara was loaned to The Princess of Monaco by Van Cleef & Arpels for the for the Centenary Ball of Monaco in 1966 where it was worn by Grace Kelly. The Emerald and Diamond Tiera of Empress Josephine from 1804 eventually found its way to Sweden through Queen Josephine, the granddaughter of Napoléon’s Empress Josephine, of Sweden and Norway in 1873 and is now worn by Queen Sonja of Norway. It was made for Joséphine by the French jeweler Bapst, and is part of a parure that today includes a necklace, earrings, and two brooches. This symmetrical diadem incorporates geometric emeralds in a neo-classical diamond design, all mounted on a frame of gold and silver. As we all know, Napoléon and Joséphine had no children, and were separated in 1810.
On her marriage to Napoléon in 1810 Marie Louise’s life changed radically. The rather mousy Habsburg princess now became the First Lady of Europe. Marie Louise was married by proxy to Napoléon on March 11, 1810 at the Augustinian Church, Vienna. Napoléon was represented by Archduke Charles, the bride’s uncle. Afterwards Marie Louise travelled to France to join her new husband. Marie Louise departed Vienna on March 13, probably expecting never to return. She met Napoléon for the first time on March 27 in Compiègne, remarking to him: “You are much better-looking than your portrait.” Napoléon and Marie Louise made the journey to Paris in the coronation coach. The procession arrived at the Tuileries Palace, and the Imperial couple made their way to the Salon Carré chapel (in the Louvre) for the religious wedding ceremony. The ceremony was conducted by the Cardinal Grand Almoner of France. Marie Louise became pregnant by July 1810 and gave birth to a son on 20 March 1811. The boy, Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, was given the title King of Rome, in accordance with the practice where the heir apparent to the Holy Roman Empire was called the King of the Romans. In the miniature by J.B. Isabey which she sent her father in Vienna, the Empress wears the necklace with her picturesque wedding gown of white satin embroidered with trails of golden leaves and Napoléonic bees.
The tiara and crown shown above are replicas of the originals made for Marie Louise; these are made of garnets and white sapphires and belong to Chaumet, the jewelry firm once known as Nitot. The Nitot Ruby and Diamond parure was a glistening eight-piece set. The suite included (1) a coronet, (2) a diadem, (3) a comb, (4) earrings, (5) a necklace, (6 &7) a pair of bracelets and (8) a belt. Sketches of how the parure appeared in 1811 still exist; the original necklace has a much more intricate design than the one that survives today. The entire replica Ruby Parure is usually on display at the Museum of Chaumet and I assume that it was loaned to the Musée de l’Armée for the special exhibition, Napoléon and Europe.
Nitot was very proud of this particular parure, it is the only one he recorded in a watercolour and by a replica, substituting white sapphires and garnets for the precious stones. Since that time Chaumet has made two additional replicas of the parure.
Marie Louise is shown here wearing the necklace, from which is suspended a medallion with a portrait of Napoléon surrounded by diamonds. The medallion was also made by Ninot.
The Bourbon Restoration is the name given to the period of French history following the fall of Napoléon in 1814 until the July Revolution of 1830. Louis XVIII’s restoration to the throne in 1814 was effected largely through the support of Napoléon’s former foreign minister, Talleyrand, who convinced the victorious Allied Powers of the desirability of a Bourbon Restoration. Napoleon abdicated the throne on April 11, 1814 in Fontainebleau. The Treaty of Fontainebleau exiled him to Elba, allowed Marie Louise to retain her imperial rank and style and made her ruler of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla. The top painting shows the defense of Paris on March 30, 1814. In the center, marshal Moncey gives his orders to goldsmith Claude Odiot, colonel of the national guard, for whom the painting was made. The bottom painting allegorically represents Louis XVIII surveying the damage of war.
Since the wife of Louis XVIII, Queen Marie Joséphine died in England in 1810, all “first lady” status and duties were conferred upon his niece, Marie Thérèse, then the duchesse d’Angoulême (she married her first cousin). Marie Thérèse, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, enjoyed the pleasure of the crown jewel collection exclusively. She wore the Ninot Ruby and Diamond parure in its original form before she had it remodeled in 1816 by Bapst and P.F. Ménière. Louis XVIII died in September 1824. He was succeeded by his brother, Charles whose wife had died in 1805 in Austria. Charles X pursued a more conservative form of governance than Louis. His ultra-reactionary laws included the Anti-Sacrilege Act (1825–1830), which saw his popularity plummet. Since Charles X was widowed, Marie Thésèse continued her “First Lady” duties and got to keep wearing the Crown Jewels.
In 1825, Bapst, then the crown jeweler, modified the ruby-and-diamond suite yet again in preparation for the coronation of Charles X at Rheims. Several more rubies were added to the suite, “several” being an understatement. By the end of Charles X’s reign, the parure consisted of 26 pieces: (1) a diadem, (2) a coronet, (3) a belt, (4 & 5) a pair of bracelets, (6) earrings, (7) a pendant, (8) a rosette-shaped fastener, (9) a small necklace, (10) a large necklace, (11-24) a set of 14 corsage studs and finally two unspecified “accessories” (25 & 26) which are possibly Ruby Rosaries.
P.F. Ménière used the designs of his son-in-law Evrard Bapst. The Bapst-Ménière Duo were the same craftsmen who created Marie Thérèse’s Emerald and Diamond diadem. Bapst created this “masterpiece of early 19th Century French jeweler craftsmanship“ in 1819. The tiara was commissioned by Louis Antoine, the duc d’Angoulême, for his wife and first cousin: Marie Thérèse. Both the Emerald and Ruby diadems mirror each other in the Bapst signature style. Use of clusters of colored stones edged with diamonds and more diamonds to create the neo-classical acanthus scrolls & the gently undulating band of stones that supports the orientation of the whole design. There is little doubt that the two tiaras are clearly the work of the same artist. Although they were not commissioned as such, the Ruby and Emerald diadems seem like a pair. Between September 1819 and July 1820, the Bapst brothers, Evrard and Frederic Bapst, detailed a delightfully symmetrical tiara mounted with more than a thousand diamonds set into silver and 40 emeralds set in gold. Scrolls and twisting foliage surround 14 of the largest emeralds in the Royal Collection. The centerpiece stars a cushion-shaped emerald surrounded by 18 brilliant-cut diamonds. The brothers Bapst then added on an extra 26 smaller of the kerry-green gems, totaling Marie Thérèse’s tiara with a total of 79.12 carats in emeralds. With the July Monarchy in 1830, Marie Thérèse returned her emerald tiara to the state in 1830 before departing for England.
Napoléon III became emperor in 1852. His wife, Empress Eugenie, was the next royal to wear the ruby and diamond jewels. This time, the parure was left intact as it was considered to be of the finest craftsmanship and in no way outmoded. However, many of the other jewels in the collection were dismantled and remodeled to reflect the fashion of the time. The emerald-and-diamond diadem has had an interesting journey since the former Madame Royale turned it in. Until 1848, it collected dust in some vault of the State Treasury, packed away and mostly forgotten. Thankfully Napoléon III returned and the tiara came out of hiding once more. During the Second French Empire, Empress Eugénie, Napoléon III’s empress consort, frequently wore Marie Thérèse’s Emerald Tiara to formal events. With fair skin and red hair, Empress Eugénie felt the green-and-brilliant white of Marie Thérèse’s diadem set off her complexion. It became one of her favorite pieces of jewelry. She was also, as everyone knows, very fond of pearls and the Pearl Tiara, seen above in the painting, which is on display at the Louvre next to the Emerald Tiara. The pearl and diamond tiara made for Empress Eugénie contains 212 pearls (weighing 2,520 grains in total) and 1998 diamonds (with a total weight of 63.3 carats). The diamonds create a leafy scroll pattern around the multiple larger pearls, and the tiara finishes off with multiple upright pear-shaped pearls of graduated sizes. The tiara was made by Gabriel Lemonnier around 1853, and was commissioned by Napoléon III to celebrate his marriage to Eugénie de Montijo. The new tiara fashioned for Eugénie was part of a parure including bracelets, a stomacher, and a necklace of six pearl strands, and was worn by the Empress for the portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter seen above.
Throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries the jewels survived the First French Republic, the Directorate, the First Empire, the Restoration, the July Monarchy, the Second French Republic and the Second Empire. However, the decision of Henri, Comte de Chambord not to accept the French Crown in the early 1870s ended not just the prospect of a royal restoration. It also led to the break-up and partial sale of the Crown Jewels. In 1887, in an effort to prove that they’d finally accomplished what their great revolution of 102 years previous had failed pitifully to do, make France a republic and not a monarchy, the French government decided to sell off their crown jewels. The auction that was held in May 1887, attracted international attention, and several leading jewelry houses in the world, such as Tiffany’s, Van Cleef & Arpels and the Parisian jewelers Frederic Boucheron and Paul Bapst, took part in the auctions. The sale was held in the “Pavilion de Flore” a part of the palace of the Tuileries, on May 12, 1887. The jewels were divided into 69 lots, and Tiffany’s of New York, successfully bid for 24 of these lots which they purchased for $480,000, a sum that was greater than the combined purchases of the next nine largest buyers. The sale was heavily promoted and much commented on in the press. In the end, it appears that somehow, the sale didn’t manage to be terribly profitable. In much the same way that having sold off the contents of Versailles and other royal palaces during the French Revolution, the current republic continues to frantically, and at great cost, buy back whatever pieces of royal provenance it can get its hands on, they have also reacquired several of the long lost crown jewels.
The Brazilian beauty symbol Aimée de Heeren (1903-2006), mistress of President Getúlio Vargas was known for being the largest private owner of the French Crown jewels, along with the Brazilian crown jewels and other important jewelry. The large ruby and diamond necklace was acquired at the 1887 auction by Bapst and Son, the same company that had done the remodeling in 1814 and 1825. The necklace then disappeared for many years, but reappeared at Christie’s Geneva auctions in 1982 (when it sold for $458,000) and 1993 (when it sold for nearly $1.3 million). Also at the 1887 auction, the ruby and diamond diadem was sold to a Mr. Hass and the matching bracelets were sold to Tiffany & Co. Within a year, these jewels were resold to Mr. Bradley-Martin of New York City, an original member of the “Four Hundred,” a term coined for New York City’s high society. A scandal erupted when the wife hosted a ball and wore the gems. They moved to England and their daughter married the Fourth Earl of Craven and acquired the title Lady Craven at age 16. The tiara and the bracelets which were bought by Tiffanys came to light when the jewels of Cornelia, Countess Craven were sold in 1961. S.J. Phillips, a London jewelry firm, bought the bracelets and later sold them to Claude Menier, who bequeathed them to the Louvre in 1973. The bracelets have been displayed in the Louvre since 1973 and the tiara is also said to be in Paris, in the private collection of Stavros Niarchos.
When Marie Etienne Nitot died in 1809, he was succeeded by his son Francois Regnault as the court jeweler. As court jewelers both father and son helped Napoléon to re-assemble the jewels dispersed from the Tresor de la Couronne (Crown Treasury) during the French revolution, and to acquire emeralds, diamonds and other precious stones needed for the manufacture of the expensive parures he lavished on his wives. At the time of his marriage to Marie-Louise in 1810, it was Francois Regnault who was assigned with the task of designing and manufacturing the emerald and diamond parure to be given to Marie-Louise as a wedding gift. Being a gift to the empress the parure entered her personal collection and was never the property of the state. Van Cleef & Arpels, who acquired the celebrated diadem in 1887, dismounted the emeralds from the setting but left all the diamonds intact. The partially modified diadem was then purchased in 1971 by Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), the owner of the Postum Cereal Company, and donated it to the Smithsonian. In the year 2004, the Louvre Museum finally acquired the Marie-Louise Emerald Necklace and Earrings from their owner for a record sum of 3.7 million euros, the highest price ever paid by an institution for items of jewelry.
In the end Napoléon did change the world of jewelry as he did in so many other ways. Although the sale of the French Crown Jewels was probably ill-advised, the workmanship and beauty of these works of art continue to inspire us today. I could not have written this post without the blogs of very devoted and knowledgable people including Tiaras and Trianon, Order of Sartorial Splendor, Internet Stones and Royal Magazine.
Van Cleef and Arples: http://www.vancleefarpels.com/
Stauer Napoleon Engagement Ring: http://www.stauer.com/item/napoleon-josephine-engagement-ring-w6121/w6121
Napoleon and Josephine’s Engagement Ring: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/03/26/napoleon-and-josephines-engagement-ring-sold-at-auction-for-949000/
Royal Magazine: http://www.royal-magazin.de/french/crown-jewel-ruby-replica.htm
My Napoleon Obsession: http://mynapoleonobsession.blogspot.com
Australia Napoleon: http://frenchempirecollection.com/index.html
Ruby Parure of Marie Louis: http://tiarasandtrianon.com/page/3/
Emerald and Diamond Parure: http://www.internetstones.com/emerald-diamond-parure-of-marie-louise-empress-of-france-vancleef-and-arpels.html
1887 Auction Catalog: http://famousdiamonds.tripod.com/frenchcrownjewels.html
Crown Jewels of France: /crown-jewels-of-france-napoleon-i-and-iii/