As is the case with many countries throughout history, France and its royal family has a turbulent past. World leaders residing in exile. Grand jewels that were sold off. And we all know what happened to Marie Antoinette. But unlike Mother Russia, the Crown Jewels of France, at least some of them, remain. One intact piece is that of famous nobility (related to Marie herself): The Duchess d’Angouleme Emerald And Diamond Tiara.
The stunning tiara was a gift (can someone please nudge my husband and explain this concept to him?) from the Duchess’ husband, Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême. She was the only surviving child from the union of Marie Antionette and Louis XVI, making her quite the catch. The Duke had the tiara made by Evrard and Frederic Bapst in 1819-20 and it was designed to hold several of the unmounted stones from the original Crown Jewels, now in the Duchess’ possession.
That would include 40 emeralds, at 77 carats, all set in yellow gold (14 of those coming from the royal cache and the others purchased to match). But let’s not overlook the 1,031 diamonds (!) at roughly 176 carats all in, which are set in silver. While the tiara was made for the Duchess, it actually belonged to the State as a part of the official crown jewels. When her father-in-law and husband abdicated the throne, she returned the tiara to the treasury.
But not to worry – Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, loved emeralds and was said to wear the tiara often (if only we had a portrait of such). Along with the entire collection of Crown Jewels, the tiara was displayed at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1878 and later displayed at the Louvre in 1884. But then in 1887 it was sold by the Third Republic at auction, along with most of the royal collection. It disappeared for almost 100 years, turning up in Great Britain in the 1960s in some storage vaults, its provenance long since forgotten.
In 2002 its anonymous owner decided to sell. But, “Not so fast”, said the British Government. They put a temporary export ban on the tiara to give another fellow Brit the chance to buy it. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and it rightfully (in my opinion) made its way back to France to become a permanent part of the collection at the Louvre. But what do you think? Should it have stayed in Britain or is it back where it belongs? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!