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Napoleon Diamond Necklace

Photograph of the Napoleon diamond necklace (NMNH G5019), 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 G5019-00
Locality Brazil
Weight 260 ct

Gift of Mrs. Marjorie M. Post in 1962.

The Napoleon Diamond Necklace was a gift from Emperor Napoleon to his second wife, Marie-Louise, to celebrate the birth of their son, Napoleon II, the Emperor of Rome, in 1811. The elegant silver and gold necklace, designed by Etienne Nitôt and Sons of Paris was completed in 1811 and consists of 234 diamonds: 28 old mine-cut diamonds, suspending a fringe of nine pendeloques (five pear shapes alternating with four ovals) and 10 briolettes. Above each pear shape is mounted a small brilliant, while 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 came from India or Brazil, the only significant diamond-producing areas in the world at that time. They are cut in the “old mine” style, the precursor to the modern brilliant cut, resulting in great dispersion (flashes of color as the stone moves in light), but less brilliance due to less light refraction through the top of the stone. The necklace has an estimated total weight of 263 carats, the largest single diamond weighing approximately 10.4 carats. Following the fall of Napoleon, Marie-Louise returned in 1814 to her Hapsburg family in Vienna, Austria, taking all of her jewelry, including this necklace. When Marie-Louise died in 1847, the necklace was given to her sister-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, who removed two stones to shorten the necklace. Earrings were made with the two removed stones, the whereabouts of which are unknown. In 1872, the necklace was bequeathed to the Archduchess’ son, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria. The necklace remained in the Hapsburg 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. Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired the necklace, in its original case, from Winston and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962. It is on display in the Gem Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History next to the Marie-Louise Diadem, both historical icons, and two of the most spectacular jewelry pieces of the period.


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