Birthstone Feature: ‘Napoleon Diamond Necklace’ Is Now an American Treasure


In honor of April’s official birthstone, we shine our spotlight today on a scintillating and spectacular item from the Smithsonian National Gem Collection. Gifted to Empress Marie Louise by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1811 to celebrate the birth of their son, Napoleon II, the “Napoleon Diamond Necklace” is now an American treasure.

Before taking residence in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals in Washington, DC, the 234-diamond, 260-carat neckpiece was owned for a very short time by American businesswoman and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post.

The necklace, which was designed by Etienne Nitôt and Sons of Paris, consists of an inner circle made up of 28 old mine-cut diamonds, suspending a fringe of nine “pendeloques” (five pear shapes alternating with four ovals) and 10 briolettes.

Mounted above each pear shape is a small round brilliant diamond, while the four ovals are attached to motifs decorated with 23 smaller diamonds. Each of the 10 briolette mountings is accented with 12 rose-cut diamonds. The largest single diamond in the piece weighs approximately 10.4 carats.

According to the Smithsonian, when Marie Louise died in 1847, the necklace was given to her sister-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria. The necklace was bequeathed in 1872 to the Archduchess’ son, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria. The necklace remained in the Austrian royal family until 1948, when Archduke Ludwig’s grandson, Prince Franz Joseph of Liechtenstein, sold it to a French collector who, in turn, sold it to Harry Winston, Inc., in 1960.

Post, the heiress to the Post cereal fortune and a big fan of Napoleonic jewelry, was one of the richest women in the world when she acquired the necklace — in its original case — from Winston that same year. In 1962, she donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.

Post was not only famous for her business acumen and acts of philanthropy, she was also the original owner of Mar-a-Lago, which she built in Palm Beach, FL, between 1924 and 1927. Post died in 1973 at the age of 86. Former president Donald J. Trump acquired the 126-room, 62,500-square-foot mansion in 1985.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Smithsonian/Chip Clark and digitally enhanced by SquareMoose.

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