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Marie Antoinette Diamond Earrings

Photograph of the Marie Antoinette diamond earrings (NMNH G5018), digitally enhanced by SquareMoose for a 2017 jewelry publication by the Hillwood Museum
Photo by Chip Clark and digitally enhanced by SquareMoose. Click to zoom.
Catalog Number NMNH G5018-00
Weight 14.25 ct

Gift of Mrs. Eleanor Barzin in 1964.

These two large, pear-shaped diamonds weigh 14.25 and 20.34 carats respectively and are originally from India or Brazil, the only significant sources of diamonds in the eighteenth century. The diamonds are believed to have been set in earrings that belonged to Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France who was guillotined in 1793 during the French Revolution. While the circumstances by which Marie Antoinette’s diamond earrings left her possession may never be known with certainty, the earrings appear to have stayed in the French Royal family. In 1853, as a wedding gift, Napoleon III gave Empress Eugenie a pair of earrings with large pear-shaped diamonds that are believed to have been the Marie Antoinette earrings. Original engravings from the Illustrated London News wedding issue of February 1853 show Eugenie wearing large diamond earrings. In 1887, all of the Crown Jewels of France were sold, and Empress Eugenie sold her personal jewels in 1870-1872 after she was exiled to England. It then seems plausible that they were acquired by the Grand Duchess Tatiana Yousupoff of Russia. When jeweler Pierre Cartier purchased the diamond earrings in 1928, their authenticity was attested to in an affidavit by Russian Princess Zenaide Yousupoff and her son, Prince Felix Yousupoff, stating that they originally belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette and had never been reset in the years that they were in the family. Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired the earrings from Pierre Cartier in October 1928. At the time of the sale, Cartier described the settings as original, but it is not known if these had been replaced or altered in the previous century. The large diamond drops were surrounded by bands of silver that had gold linkages and were decorated with old mine cut diamonds in scroll work. Later, Cartier replaced the tops of the earrings with triangular diamonds set in platinum. In 1959, Harry Winston, Inc., mounted the diamonds into platinum and diamond replicas of the “original” silver settings for Mrs. Post. In November 1964, Mrs. Post’s daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Barzin, donated the earrings, along with the original settings, to the Smithsonian Institution. The magnificent Marie Antoinette Diamond Earrings are on display in the Gem Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History.


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