A speculative view into the jewellery cabinet of Empress Eugénie by Uwe Ripka
It is well known that the Empress Eugénie had a great passion for jewellery. The crown jewels of France are well documented but nearly nothing is known about her personal collection. Contemporaries of the empress said that her collection nearly equalled the sumptuous jewellery collection of the late dowager empress of Russia Alexandra Feodorovna (1798-1860).
It is often said that she not only favoured the lustre of fine pearls but also the saturated green of Colombian emeralds, all of which were stored in a big neo-rococo style jewellery cabinet (seen above in the background). Countless pieces were kept in drawers and compartments and remain a mystery since the downfall of the French monarchy.
When the empress had to leave France after the country's defeat by Prussia in 1871, she took her personal collection of jewellery with her into exile in England but had to sell them piece by piece. In 1871 she made some private transactions and sold some of her fabulous pearls to Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck and a large diamond rivičre necklace with diamond pendants to the Maharajah of Patiala.
In June 1872 Eugénie had to sell some more jewellery. This time it was at a public sale held by Messrs. Christie, Manson & Woods in London. The catalogue has 123 lots of all kinds of jewellery including brooches, bracelets, earrings, hairpins, necklaces and fashionable demi-parures and some tiaras as well. Unfortunately the catalogue is without photographs and just short with descriptions.
The most interesting part is about her emeralds which alone account for 28 lots and are introduced as a
“Magnifique ensemble de joyaux en émeraudes et brillants”.
- For example lot 107 was a beautiful tiara set with 10 big and very fine emeralds, all set in ribbons of diamonds.
- Lots 104 – 106 are three splendid brooches each with a very fine central emerald surrounded by fine diamonds and a drop-shaped emerald as a pendant, all of similar design but graduating in size.
- Lots 80 - 92 were in total 25 drop shaped cabochon emerald pendants of graduating size and were offered as twelve lots of two stones and one of a single drop (lot 84).
- Lots 93-103 were so called emerald brooches all set in diamonds.
Just a necklace is missing, can we have really so many single brooches or do we have more likely the detached clusters of a big necklace which can be used as brooches as well and to which the cabochon drops might have belonged as pendants ? It is not unusual to divide big jewellery in several lots if a single piece was so valuable that it seems to remain unsold.
Bernard Morel mentioned that in 1853 a very valuable parure of emeralds was bought at the jeweller Moiana in Paris. Fifteen emeralds were used for a necklace, earrings and a brooch. But what did the necklace look like at the time when the Empress wore it and was it altered and enlarged during that time?
We know that the Rothschild family bought many fine emeralds during that time and on November 16, 1989 Christie's sold many of them in Geneva. A tiara of 19 graduating cabochon emerald drops figured in the sale.
Christie's stated in the preface of the 1989 catalogue that some of the emeralds were acquired by Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild in 1872. For example two of the clusters (Lot 98 and 100) and a pair of the cabochon drops (lot 87) was amongst them. But many of the drops at the Empress' sale remained unsold and it was argued by Christie's that they were bought privately from the former empress after the sale by Mr. Rothschild himself.
Two of the clusters made c. mid 19th century and set in gold and silver came back to light in November 1992 when Christies sold them, stating that they belonged to Baronesse de Rothschild. The certified Columbian emeralds have a weight of 20,93 and 22,05 carats respectively. The 24 diamonds in total approximately 28 carats, more than 1 carat each. They were sold for USD 937,200 and in May 1994 they were sold once again.
According to family tradition it is said that the clusters were bought in 1878 at the sale of the jewellery of Queen Isabella II of Spain but, often over the years, there is misinformation about the history of family jewels and it is more likely that they were purchased at the sale of Empress Eugénie in 1872.
A reproduction of the necklace in the style of c. 1855 can be seen here - on top. This is just a fiction but should give an impression of how such an important necklace might have been looked with the use of some of the emeralds once in the possession of the Empress Eugénie.
Source:Christie's, Bernard Morel
Thanks again to Uwe Ripka for his great support and Laura for her generous help!
More of the Diamants De La Couronne | Imperatrice France
Empress Eugenie Tassel-Bow-Brooch | Grand noeud de corsage de l'impératrice Eugénie Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France | Schleifenbrosche der Kaiserin Eugenie
Famous Pearl Napoleon & La Regente, Diadem with Pearls of the French Empress Eugenie | Imperatrice France
Pearls Parure Diamantes Stomacher | Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France | Joyaux de la couronne
The historical pearls of the French Imperial treasure - the Tiara | Joyaux historiques LA PERLE DE L'EMPEREUR
The Diamond Hair Jewel Empress Eugenie | Diamant Haar-Schmuck der Kaiserin Eugenie Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France
Feuilles de Groseillier Diamant Parure | Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France | Joyaux de la Couronne France
4 Perles Broches Brillants | Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France | Joyaux de la Couronne France
2 Bracelets with Brilliants & Pearls | Empress Eugenie| French Crown Jewels| Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France
Pair of Great Shoulder Knot Brooches with Diamonds | French Crown Jewels|Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France
Couronnette Perles et Brillants | Joyaux et Histoire des diamants de la Couronne de France| French Crown Jewels
Empress Eugenie's Personal Jewels
Empress Eugenies Lilac Spray Brooches | Mellerio Flieder Brosche| Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Ruby-Necklace of Empress Eugenie | Rubin-Diamant-Perlen Collier der Kaiserin Eugenie| Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Imperial Marguerites of Diamond for the Empress of France | Margeriten aus Diamanten für die Blumenliebhaberin Kaiserin Eugenie von Frankreich | Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Exotic inspired corsage brooch of diamonds, once in the collection of Empress Eugénie| Orchideen Knospe, Diamant Brosche mit sechs Diamanttropfen | Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Empress Eugénie - Jewels Anchor Diamond Brooches Empress Eugénie - Jewel History France | Anker Broschen Kaiserin Eugenie von Frankreich
Broché rubis perles et diamants Eugénie | Brosche mit drei Tropfenperlen, Rubinen und Diamanten der Kaiserin Eugénie
Three pearl and diamond fringe pendants composed of large stones | Broché rubis perles et diamants Eugénie brooch| later in the possession of the Mrs Ernest G Raphael nee Sassoon
Diademe Imperatrice - Eugenie de France |Fontenay Diadem of Empress Eugenie | Diadem der Kaiserin Eugenie von Frankreich | Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Emerald Collection Empress Eugenie | Magnifique ensemble de joyaux en émeraudes et brillants Imperatrice Eugenie| Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Imperial Emeralds from Empress Eugenie to Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain Emerald-Necklace | Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Imperial Emeralds of Empress Eugenie Gift to Queen Victoria Eugenia | Emerald-Necklace in long Version with the Cross| Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie
Imperial Emeralds Present to Queen Victoria Eugenia | Emeraldcross of Queen Isabella II. - Madame Patiño| Les bijoux de l'Impératrice Eugénie