Friday, February 6, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: Napoleon Diamond Necklace

Today we are going to talk about a gem that may not have been worn by any Luxembourg or Liechtenstein lady (at least to the best of our combined knowledges) but still boasts a connection to both the princely and grand ducal families, a beautiful diamond necklace best known as the Napoleon Diamond Necklace. Unsurprisingly, it gets its name from its famous namesake who commissioned it around 1811, Emperor Napoleon I of France.
Photo: Chip Clark
Consisting of no less than 234 diamonds set in silver and gold, the necklace was designed by jeweller Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris. The 28 oval and cushion-cut diamonds are adorned by a fringe of nine pendeloques (five pear shapes alternating with four ovals) and 10 briolettes. Above each pear shape a small brilliant is mounted; the four ovals are attached to motifs decorated with 23 smaller diamonds. Each of the 10 briolette mountings is set with 12 rose-cut diamonds. The diamonds originate from either India or Brazil, the only significant diamond-producing areas in the world at the time of the necklace's creation.

The necklace's diamonds are cut in the "old mine" style, predecessor to the modern brilliant cut. The "old mine" cut results in great dispersion (flashes of colour as the stone moves in light) but less brilliance due to less light refraction through the top of the stone. The Napoleon Diamond Necklace has an estimated total weight of 263 carats, the largest single diamond weighing approximately 10.4 carats - a gift truly fit for an Empress! And that Empress was Napoleon's second wife, née Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. 

Empress Marie-Louise
In 1810, Napoleon I of France divorced his first wife Empress Joséphine as she proved to be incapable of producing an heir. Just two months later, he married Archduchess Marie-Louise, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Franz II and his wife Maria Theresa. Within a year, Marie-Louise gave birth to the much longed for son and heir. To celebrate the birth, Napoleon commissioned the diamond necklace and gifted it to his wife. And an expensive gift it was: It cost 376,274 French francs, the equivalent of the Empress's entire annual household budget.

When Napoleon was exiled only a few years later, Empress Marie-Louise returned to Austria and with her, she took the necklace. After Marie-Louise's death, it was given to her sister-in-law, Archduchess Sophie. The wife of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria had two two diamonds removed from the necklace to shorten it. Earrings were created with the left-over stones; the whereabouts of the earrings today are unknown.

Following the death of Archduchess Sophie in 1872, the Napoleon Diamond Necklace was jointly inherited by her three surviving sons, Archdukes Karl Ludwig and Ludwig Viktor, as well as Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. Archduke Karl Ludwig paid off his brothers and at the time of his death in 1914, he left it to his third wife née Infanta Maria Teresa of Portugal, great-grandmother of Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein. So as you see, we slowly come closer to the Liechtenstein connection.

But before arriving there, let's indulge in a bit of a curiosity: In 1929, Archduchess Maria Teresa sent the jewel to the United States to be sold. The agents she chose to sell the necklace, however, were not the persons they claimed to be: "Colonel Townsend," who had allegedly served in the British Secret Service, and "Princess Baronti," a novelist. To this day, the Townsends' true identities have never been revealed. 

Photo: Chip Clark
The necklace arrived in the United States at about the same time as the stock market crash. When the Townsends soon realised that they never would be able to sell the necklace for the $450,000 asking price, they engaged Archduke Leopold, Marie-Teresa’s grand-nephew, who was from the ruined branch of the Habsburg family and lived in New York, in order to authenticate the necklace to prospective buyers. The Townsends negotiated deals to sell the necklace several times, and eventually sold it for $60,000 to David Michel, a New York diamond dealer. 

They sent $7,270 to Archduchess Maria Teresa and kept the balance to cover their "expenses related to the sale," which included a reported $20,000 for Archduke Leopold. The affair ultimately went to court, as the Archduchess had engaged an emissary to retrieve the diamonds and had revoked the Townsends’ authority to sell the necklace. While the necklace was returned to her, Archduke Leopold went to prison and the Townsends took flight never to be seen again.

In 1948, it was Archduchess Maria Teresa's grandson Prince Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein who sold the necklace to no other than Paul-Louis Weiller, French industrialist and grandfather of Luxembourg's Princess Sibilla. Weiller later sold the Napoleon Diamond Necklace to jeweller Harry Winston's company in 1960. Marjorie Merriweather Post obtained it soon after and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962. It has been exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. ever since.

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