L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Les Diamants de la couronne de France

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 not a monarchy - the French government decided to sell off their crown jewels.  The last occupant of a French throne, Napoléon III, had been booted in 1871, and much of the truly impressive horde of jewelry had been created for his wife, the Empress Eugénie.  Existing jewels from the state treasury were often used in these commissions, and so these new pieces were considered state property rather than personal.  The empress had fled Paris at the Empire's fall with pretty much just the clothes on her back and, though the French government eventually returned much of her personal property - her Winterhalter paintings for example - they felt justified in withholding the sparkly things.

The cover and some illustrations from the catalogue of photographic plates by the photographer Berthaud - Diamants, Perles et Pierreries provenant de la Collection dite des Joyaux de la Couronne. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1887:

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.

A vintage photograph of a display of the diamond jewelry.
A vintage photograph of a display of the ruby and diamond jewelry.

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.  Most of the "resurrected" reside today in the galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre.

The emerald tiara made by royal jewelers Evrard and Frédéric Bapst in 1819 for the duchesse d'Angoulême - Marie Thérèse
Charlotte de France, only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette - it was acquired by the Louvre in 2002.
The tiara in its case in the Louvre.

Pair of ruby bracelets that also belonged to the duchesse d'Angoulême; created by Paul-Nicolas Menière
and Evrard Bapst in 1816 and part of a large parure.  They were donated to the Louvre in 1973.

Emerald necklace and earrings made by Nitot et fils for the Empress Marie Louise, second wife
of Napoléon I.  Originally part of a large parure, they were bought by the Louvre in 2004.

A remarkable survival:  the tasseled diamond bow-knot brooch of the Empress Eugénie.  Made by François Kramer in 1855,
altered in 1864, it spent more than a century in the collection of the Astor family, and was purchased by the Louvre in 2008.

The pearl and diamond diadem of the Empress Eugénie, made by Gabriel Lemonnier, circa 1853 - well-known from the state
portrait by Winterhalter - and resold soon after the auction, in 1890, to Albert, prince von Thurn und Taxis.  It remained
in the family for over one hundred years, until it was bought at auction by the société des amis du Louvre in 1992.
The state portrait of the Empress Eugénie, after Winterhalter.  (The original
painting is presumed destroyed in the burning of the Tuileries palace in 1871.)


  1. I just love this stuff. They all had great taste!

  2. I the company I work for, we have a necklace made by Tiffany in 1911 from diamonds they purchased at this auction- it is extraordinary

    1. Yes, Thomas, it's my understanding that Tiffany was one of the big buyers at the auction.

  3. I'm preparing an online exhibition on Napoleon's return to power in 1815 and would like to use the image you have of a page from l'Illustration of 1887 showing the display of diamonds from the crown jewels. Did you take the photo yourself? If not, I'd be grateful if you could tell me where you got the image from I'illustration from. Many thanks

    1. The exhibition sounds interesting, Napoleonic Theatre. I'm afraid I don't really remember where I got the image you're asking about. Basically, I just Goggle like mad to find the images I use on this blog; the key word search is my life! Sorry I'm not more help....