Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Jewels of France

Crown of Louis XV ~ 1722
Photo via Flickr

When I think of Marie Antoinette and the court of Versailles I always think of the pomp, the fashion, the silks, the hair, the incredible furniture, the Sevres, and undoubtedly the ...JEWELS!!!

The French Crown & Imperial Jewels are unquestionably amazing, but even more amazing is their story and history. The following is glimpse into another world. A world where gossip, intrigue, fashion, and jewels held the highest position in court. Out shining even the monarchs themselves and even causing great political turmoil (ie the Affair of the Necklace).

The State and coronation regalia had been last used in 1775 at the coronation of Louis XVI. They were then housed on display in the treasury. On the morning of 17 September 1792 a group of men broke into the treasury. Once inside, they broke the seals on eleven cabinets containing the Royal Crown Jewels, as well as the State and coronation regalia.
Plaque de l'ordre du Saint~espirit

The State and coronation regalia was, from a historical point of view, priceless: the Charlemagne crown; Louis XV’s 1722 coronation crown; the medieval gold sceptre of Charles V; the ivory-hand-topped gold sceptre called ‘le main de justice’; the Ampulla; the coronation sword (‘Joyeuse’), orbs, onyx chalices and assorted historic relics as well.

Stored with the regalia was a jewel-thief’s dream: the enormous collection of gemstones gathered over decades by the Kings of France.
9,547 diamonds worth 21-million francs. Among these diamonds were the Regent, the French Blue , the Sancy, and the Hortensia. Also included in the collection was the Ruspoli Sapphire – a 135-carat Sapphire bought by Louis XIV.
Modern sources conflict, but it appears six men participated in the robbery, including a man called Guillot. According to some accounts, Guillot took the French Blue to London, where he tried to sell it in 1796 to cover his debts. Guillot ended up in prison and the diamond disappeared.

The Regent and the Hortensia were recovered in 1793 from an attic in Paris (a condemned man named Depeyron told police he had hidden a bag containing the gems and some gold in a house in the Halles district). No trace of the Sancy was discovered. The Royal French Blue is believed to have been recut, and it is now known as the famous Hope Diamond.
Sadly, In May 1887, the French government decided to organize an auction to sell most of the former Crown Jewels. Fearing attempts by either Royalists or Bonapartists to restore the monarchy, they wanted to sell the Crown Jewels before anyone could use them again.
Everything was to be sold, except for a few stripped-down items of historical interest to be exhibited at the Louvre.

Marie-Therese, Duchesse d'Angouleme
The only surviving child of Marie~Antoinette & Louis XVI

One glorious piece from the collection is the tiara of Marie~Therese the only living child of Marie~Antoinette & Louis XVI. It is a beautiful Emerald and diamond tiara in a symmetrical design of scrolling foliage, mounted with over a thousand diamonds set in silver, and 40 emeralds set in gold.
The tiara of Marie~Therese

The tiara of Marie~Therese as it sits in the Louvre today Photo via~The Louvre

The royal jewelers who were assigned the task of designing and crafting the tiara were the Bapst brothers. They used 14 of the largest emeralds from the crown collection. They also added 26 other smaller emeralds to the tiara, making a total of 79.12 carats of emeralds. Before leaving for exile in Britain, Marie~Therese delivered the tiara to the French treasury. Over the years the tiara passed through many hands and was sold many times eventually landing in the V&A in London. The Louvre recently negotiated a very large sum of money to acquire the tiara and it is now housed there, home where it belongs! These Bracelets were also part of a large parure belonging to Marie~Therese. It consisted of a coronet topped by an eagle, a tiara, comb, girandole earrings, belt buckle, and the two bracelets. It was one of the crown jewels of France that came from the collection founded in 1530 by Francois I. Marie~Louise wore these jewels on her wedding day and after the fall of the Empire and the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy they went to Marie~Therese. She was the last Royal to enjoy these Rubies as with the establishment of the third Republic they were sold. After passing through many hands, among them, renowned jeweler Tiffany, the bracelets are now housed in the Louvre and other the other pieces of the parure are in private collections.

Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen consort of King Louis Bonaparte of Holland, daughter of Empress Josephine Bonaparte with her first husband

The Hortensia diamond is a gorgeous and rare diamond with a Peachy~Pink color and weighing in at over 20 carats! It is a diamond of Indian origin, purchased by King Louis XIV and since then has been part of the French Crown Jewels. The occurrence of pink diamonds is much less than 0.1 % of all naturally occurring diamonds in the world, this diamond is listed as one of the world's rarest in size and color. It does have a very thin crack in it.

The Hortensia was stolen in the heist of 1792. It was recovered (along with the Regent) in 1793, when one of the robbers confessed to the crime & disclosed the hiding place of some of the hidden diamonds just before he execution. A bag containing gold and diamonds, that included the Regent and the Hortensia, was recovered from the attic of an old house.

The Hortensia

After the French revolution, The Hortensia was first mounted on the fastening of Napoleon Bonaparte's epaulette braid. Later, the diamond was worn by Queen Hortensia of Holland, from whom the diamond derived it's name. Later the Hortensia was set in a head band of the diamond encrusted comb, made for Empress Eugenie. The diamond was stolen for a second time in 1830, but was quickly recovered.

The Sancy

The Sancy Diamond a very interesting & colorful history. It is a pale yellow 55.23-carat shield-shaped stone.
The stone was purchased in Constantinople in 1570, by the French Ambassador to Turkey, the Seigneur de Sancy, who was a collector of gems and jewelry. He brought it to France, where Henry III, who was sensitive about being bald, used it to decorate a small cap he always wore to conceal his baldness.
During the next reign, when Sancy was made Superintendent of Finance, Henry IV borrowed the gem as security for substantial loan to hire soldiers. A messenger was dispatched with the jewel but never reached his destination; thieves had followed him. Knowing that the man was loyal, Sancy searched for him and his body was discovered, disinterred, and in the stomach of the servant they found the diamond! Could you believe it!
It was then sold back and forth, it was in England and ended up in the hands of Cardinal Mazarin who acquired it in a shady deal and then handed it over to Louis XIV along with many other gems. It was also stolen in the heist of 1792 and was missing for quite some time. It reappeared in 1828 and again was sold back and forth until, in 1906 when the Astor family in America purchased it.

Marie-Louise Emerald and Diamond Diadem ©Van Cleef & Arpels

A gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to Marie Louise (his second wife and niece of Marie~Antoinette) on the occasion of their wedding, this incredible Diadem was just one component in the parure, or suite of jewelry, given to her that day. The components of the exquisite Emerald and Diamond parure of Empress Marie-Louise are an Emerald and Diamond Diadem, an Emerald and Diamond Necklace, a pair of Emerald and Diamond Earrings, an Emerald and Diamond Comb, and an Emerald Belt Clasp.

A small portion of the parure

Marie~Louise wearing the diadem ~Source the Napoleon Diaries

The parure was designed and executed by the renowned Parisian jewelers Etienne Nitot et fils. It consisted of 138 emeralds, 382 rose~cut diamonds and 2,162 brilliant~cut diamonds. This diadem (not a tiara because it is fully circular and a tiara is not) was allowed to be partially dismantled (it was purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels) and its emeralds re-set in other jewelry settings. However, the original framework of the tiara has been preserved, the emeralds being replaced by turquoise but the diamonds remain original.

The partially modified diadem ©Van Cleef & Arpels

The necklace is composed of 32 emeralds, 264 rose-cut diamonds and 864 brilliant-cut diamonds. The necklace set in gold and silver. This necklace of great historic value, and imperial provenance, was preserved in its pure state, by the person who acquired it from the ancestors of Marie Louise. The Louvre Museum acquired the necklace together with the earrings, also part of the original parure, for the sum of 3.7 million euros where it lies today. The diadem is currently on display at the Smithsonian.

The Diamond & Emerald necklace of Marie~Louise

Marie~Louise gave birth to Napoleon II, future King of Rome on March 20, 1811. The diamond necklace which Napoleon gave to Empress Marie-Louise in honour of the birth of their son, is spectacular and famous! The necklace returned to Austria with Marie-Louise in 1814 and, after passing through the hands of Harry Winston in 1960, ended up in the possession of Marjorie Merriweather Post (who acquired much of the crown jewels and preserved their history) who left it to the Smithsonian Institute. Marie~Louise is seen wearing this necklace in many of her portraits.

The VERY famous & VERY spectacular diamond necklace photo via ~The Smithsonian

This incredible "push" gift comes in at a whopping 275 carats! Wow! When I gave birth all I got was a baby! Just kidding!

Marie~Louise wearing the necklace and holding her son the future King of Rome

The Sapphires of Empress Eugenie
Now, if you think Marie~Louise was a jewelry junkie, Empress Eugenie can put her to shame! The Louvre houses her parure of Sapphires and Diamonds. As seen in the photo above.

Empress Eugenie wearing her stunning Imperial Pearl and Diamond Tiara as well as other pieces from her parure.

Empress Eugenie had this Pearl parure made for her wedding to Napoleon III. She had the jewelers take the napoléonique pearls which were from the vast "order of the Pearls" of which an original parure was made for Marie~Louise. This parure had been broken up many years bears prior and Eugenie took the exact same Pearls to make her wedding jewels. Eugenie was a well documented lover of Pearls and can be seen wearing her new set in the portrait. In 1992 the "Amis de Louvre" purchased the tiara and it now makes its' home there.

Photo via ~Louvre

Among the Empress Eugenie's incredible jewels is this splendid diamond bow brooch, originally part of the “Diamants de la Couronne”, it was made by François Kramer. The impressive bow was originally intended as a buckle for a diamond belt. Eugénie asked her jeweler to make it more elaborate, to wear it with the pair of diamond tassels. Later five diamond pampilles were added.

Photos of Empress Eugenie's Bow Brooch via ~ Christie's Auction house

121 years later, when hearing of the appearance at auction of the brooch at Christie’s New York, the Louvre and the Friends of the Louvre decided to do everything possible to acquire the jewel and return it to France. The auction planned for April 15th was cancelled at the last minute for judicial reasons, but a private sale to the Louvre was negotiated soon after. ~Christie's

Ah, and now our most unfortunate Queen, Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France!
"These sumptuous pearls were given by Marie-Antoinette to Lady Sutherland, the wife of the British ambassador Lord George Leveson-Gower for safekeeping. Lady Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, is believed to have aided King Louis XVI and his family’s failed flight from France on 20 June 1791, during the French Revolution. While Marie Antoinette was imprisoned in the convent of the Feuillants, ‘Without clothes or money, for everything even to her purse and watch had been lost in the Tuileries, she had to depend on the charity of friends. Lady Sutherland, who had a son of the same age as the Dauphin, had sent them clothes and linen.‘ (Joan Haslip, Marie Antoinette (London 1987), p. 265). This was reportedly the last gesture of kindness shown to the doomed Queen.
Prior to Lady Sutherland’s departure, as part of the embassy’s hurried withdrawal in August 1792, Marie Antoinette gave Lady Sutherland a bag of pearls and diamonds for safe keeping. Anyone caught in possession of this jewellery risked severe punishment. However, the wife of the British Ambassador had diplomatic immunity and was one of the few who could be trusted to return the jewels when the Queen escaped; a plan which was never to be realised. The diamonds were subsequently fashioned into the Sutherland diamond necklace, whilst the pearls were mounted, on the occasion of the marriage between Lady Elizabeth’s grandson" ~From the Christie's site
It is no big secret that MA loved her jewels, in fact they got her in a lot of trouble from time to time. It is heart wrenching to think of all the jewels that have been lost due to the revolution. I imagine 1,000's of jewels were stolen and/or destroyed! Can you just imagine what is out there, maybe tucked away in secret, or people that own them and do not know of their history, or maybe some are hidden never to be discovered again because the theives are now gone taking with them their secret hiding spots. Or I imagine many were re~cut and now cannot be traced! After doing some research, I found that there is a lot of jewlery that belonged to the famed Queen that currently excist in private collections.
Interestly enough many of MA's portraits do not portray her wearing many jewels.
These fabulous diamond drop earings (14.25 & 20.34 carats) belonged to Marie~ Antoinette and are said to have been her favorites, are now housed in the Smithsonian, again due to the wonderful Miss Marjorie Merriweather Post who acquired the earrings from Pierre Cartier and donated them to the museum. (picture via the Smithsonian website).
These diamond earrings were given to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI and are said to have been taken from her when she was arrested fleeing the French Revolution. (Via~Lady~Reading.net)
“Un superbe diamant brilliant blanc, forme carree, les coins arrondis, ayant une petite glace dans le filetis, et une autre a un coin dans le dessous: pesant 136 14/16 karats, estime douze millions livres."
– the Regent Diamond’s description in a 1791 inventory of the Crown Jewels
The story of the Regent is similar to that of the Hortense and the Sancy. Originally a 410-carat stone. It was discovered by a slave in about 1701. The slave stole it and concealed it in bandages of a leg wound. He offered a sea captain half the value of the stone for safe passage to another country. But during the voyage the captain murdered the slave and stole the diamond. Shortly after he sold the diamond for very little money and in guilt hung himself! Over time the diamond was cut into smaller diamonds and the principal gem, is today considered one of the finest and most brilliant of the known large diamonds. It is 140.50 carats! Wowzzers!
In 1717, the gem was sold to Philip II, Duke of Orleans, then Regent of France, since that time, it has been known as the Regent Diamond. It was set in the crown of Crown of Louis XV and worn at his coronation. Removed from the crown, it was worn by Queen Marie Leczinska in her hair. Marie Antoinette used the Regent to adorn a large black-velvet hat. The coveted gem disappeared, in that darn heist in 1792, during the early part of the Revolution. Some of the gems were soon recovered, but the Regent could not at first be traced. After fifteen months, however, it was found, having been secreted in a hole in an Paris attic along with the Hortensia.

In 1797, the great gem was pledged for money that helped Napolean in his ride to power. He had in mounted in the hilt of his sword that he carried at his coronation in 1804. When Napolean went into exile in Elba in 1814, Marie Louisa, his second wife, carried the Regent to the Chateau of Blois (does that mean she was stealing it)? Later, however, her father, returned it to France and it again became part of the French Crown Jewels.

Many of the French Crown Jewels were sold at auction in 1887, but the Regent was reserved from the sale and exhibited at the Louvre amoung the national treasures. In 1940, when the Germans invaded Paris, it was sent to the chateau country, this time to Chambord, where it was secreted behind a stone panel. After the War, it was returned to Paris and put on display in the Apollon Gallery of the Louvre Museum. Info from~DIAMONDS - Famous, Notable and Unique
Well, my friends, I could not cover all of the amazing jewels that share their history with France. There are simply too many! I think I have posted a much too long post already. There is much more to explore if you are interested! I stumbled upon this magnificent site which has supurb images Royal Magazin, I highly recommend it.
Bisou Mon Amis!
Info sourced from: Internetstones.com
The Louvre Musuem
The Smithsonian
Royal Magazin.de
Christie's Auction House

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  1. Ooooh la la! Talk about bling! How spoiled can a girl be?! Terrific post Judith. Enjoying the season?

  2. This is a stunning post. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing it!!

  3. Judith ~
    Once again, I applaud you and I would like to offer you a beautiful tiara for all your hard work, this wonderful history lesson and stunning photos! Great post!!

  4. An outstanding post, Judith!

    Just when I was thinking of doing a post on the Gallerie d'Apollon from an architectural standpoint. I will link to this.


  5. Oh goodness! I came over here to thank you for visiting my blog and instead find you may be the girl of my dreams. I am going crazy over all of the treasures I see here.

    I cannot wait to explore the rest of your blog and wish I was in Paris, too. I am adding you to my list of Must Reads!

    a bientot!

  6. ~Hi Catherine! I am very much enjoying the season. My son's first birthday is Christmas day so I am very excited! I've been in Birthday mode and not Christmas, I need to get my act together! Hope you are feeling better, enough at least, to enjoy some holiday cheer.

    ~A Tiara for me!!! Thanks Kelli, I accept :) This girl would never deny diamonds :) Thank you Thank you!

    ~Ms. Catherine Delors, I am honored that you enjoyed my post, it means so much coming from you! A link would be fantastic, I can't wait to read your post!

    Thank you for visiting me & for adding me TangoBaby!!! I can't tell you how you made my day with your plumbing story. You are amazing!


  7. jewels and tiaras oh my! heavenly items!

  8. WOW! This was wonderful and captivating. Thank you!

  9. I learn so much from you, thank you so much!

  10. This is a wonderful post. I don't think I have seen any of the jewels of France, but they are much more to my taste than the crown jewels of England. Thank you for the education and the inspiration!

  11. i LOVED this post! I've had a fascination with royal jewels for years. I'm currently reading the new biography about Marie-Therese and will have to keep an eye out for any mention of these jewels :-)

  12. amazing post!!! i loved every word and picture - thanks you!!

  13. Hi Judith-

    I just discovered your delightful blog and more specifically, your post on the Jewels of France. It was extremely interesting to me since I also posted on the Sutherland necklace in March 2008.

    I am a former interior designer turned jewlery designer and have adapted the Sutherland necklace into a group called the "Tuileries Collection". The entire collection is modified from the original Sutherland necklace utilizing different stones and colors while maintaining a similar "architecture".

    Please feel free to check out my post on the Sutherland necklace - www.karensugarmandesigns.blogspot.com and my web site - www.karensugarmandesigns.com

    Great post and lovely blog!

  14. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing these jewelleries. Thank you for the education and the inspiration!

  15. It is sad for the French nation, and indeed Western civilization, that historic treasures such as Charlemagne's Crown were destroyed or stolen. I would hope that the decendants of these thieves would do the honorable thing and return them to the French people for all to enjoy.

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  23. Everything looks so nice, but those crowns are adorable. I've never seen any like this before. I know a little girl who will be soon maybe if I get the time I can make one for her. Jewels would look nice sewn on. Not real ones of course .thank you owner share this site .

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