13 May 2014

Jewel History: The French Crown Jewels (1887)

"The French Crown Jewels"
(originally appeared in the New York Times, 13 May 1887)

The sale of the Crown jewels seems to have excited more interest in America than it does here [1], where little is felt and still less manifested among the natives. From the crowds who visited their exhibition at the Pavilion de Flore [2], the representatives of the so-called directing classes were persistently absent. The people who did go to stare at the jewels were either foreigners or petits bourgeois, who went to satisfy their curiosity, but without any idea of bidding for a single article when they should go to the hammer, knowing that everything would be done to protect the interests of dealers, who, as always happens at the Hôtel Drouot [3], combine systematically to run up prices whenever an outsider presumes on competition.

Several other considerations also combined to cool the enthusiasm of at one time intending purchasers. The weight of uncut stones only is guaranteed, while, as the catalogue expressly warns the public, it is merely given approximately for the pièces montées. And here comes in another question: are the stones now in these latter the same which were there originally? Experts admit that they cannot be sure on this point, and this is notably the case in regard to the so-called seven Mazarins [4], which under that name were in the imperial crown, and which, though in a case bearing an inscription, Mr. Bapst [5] cannot swear are those so designated in the civil list.

The difficulty in obtaining the names of the real buyers of the jewels is almost insurmountable. For the reasons assigned above all purchasers not dealers operate through agents, as, for example, the Orléans princes [6], who are represented by a Viennese jeweler. But of one thing we may be certain, that six months hence there will be ten times as many Crown jewels worn by individuals as were ever in the royal collection. It will be for them, as for Voltaire's cane and scarabaei of the Grand Pyramid, and except with the pièces montées it will be impossible to prove fraud. Such houses as that of Tiffany are above suspicion, but there are many unprincipled peddlers who will profit by popular credulity to pass off the spurious for the genuine. Intrinsically the jewels are inferior to those in possession of many families of the Faubourg St. Germain [7].

There was little excitement shown at the sale today, which began at two and ended at six o'clock. About 600 persons were present, chiefly dealers, and for each spectator there was a policeman. Each lot was carried around the room, escorted by agents. Each large lot was subdivided, and afterward, with the exception of No. 9, bunched again in one. The bidding was at no time lively.

Following were the lots sold today, with the price paid, and the purchasers when they are known.

Lot 1. Two Balls, Hairpins -- Three hundred and fifty-four brilliants, 150 carats; 40,000f. -- Alfred Doutrelon, Belgium.

Lot 2. Two Large Shoulderknots -- One thousand, three hundred and forty-one brilliants, 282 5/16 carats; 86,000f. -- Alfred Doutrelon, Belgium.

Lot 3. Aiguillettes and Drop, Marie Antoinette Style. Aiguillettes -- Two hundred and twenty-two brilliants, 125 15/32 carats. Drop -- Fifty-nine brilliants, 18 9/16 carats; 25,000f. -- M. Bonynge, jeweler, of Paris.

Lot 4. Three Hedge Roses -- Five hundred and twenty-two brilliants, 129 11/16 carats; 133 rose diamonds; 44.200f. -- Rovenat & Despes, jewelers, of Paris.

Lot 5. One Knot, Two Tassels -- Two thousand, four hundred and thirty-eight brilliants, 136 3/4 carats; 196 rose diamonds; 42,500f. -- Emile Schlesinger, jeweler, of Paris.

Lot 6. One brilliant in setting; 16,100f. -- Alfred Doutrelon, Belgium.

Lot 7. One Crescent -- Eighty-nine brilliants, 40 13/16 carats; 21,200f. -- Emile Schlesinger.

Lot 8. One Hair Ornament -- Four hundred and seventy-seven brilliants, 65 11/16 carats; 100 rose diamonds; 17,000f. -- Alfred Doutrelon, Belgium.

Lot 9. Seven Stars -- Two hundred and fifteen brilliants, 49 13/16 carats; 25 rose diamonds. This lot was split up; 10 stars bringing various prices, ranging from 5,600f. to 10,600f. All were bought by Paris jewelers.

Lot 10. One Necklace of Four "Rivieres" -- Two hundred and twenty-two brilliants, 363 carats: First row, 33 brilliants, 55 1/2 carats; second row, 45 brilliants, 74 1/2 carats; third row, 57 brilliants, 96 1/2 carats; fourth row, 79 brilliants, 127 1/2 carats; locket, 8 brilliants, 9 1/2 carats. This lot was put up at 182,500f. and was purchased at a single bid by Tiffany for 183,000f.

The sale adjourned after these ten lots were disposed of until tomorrow.

The images embedded in this post are (in order) of Marie Antoinette of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, Josephine de Beauharnais, and Empress Eugenie.
1. The auction was held in Paris.
2. The Pavilion de Flore is a section of the Louvre, with parts of the structure dating to the early seventeenth century. Here's a photo. Intriugingly (creepily?), this 1887 exhibition of the crown jewels was held in the same part of the Louvre where the Committee of Public Safety met during the French Revolution.
3. A Parisian auction house; it has been in business since 1852.
4. A famous set of eighteen diamonds, among which were the Sancy and Mirror of Portugal stones. More here.
5. I believe this particular Mr. Bapst is Germain, the son of Alfred Bapst, the last crown jeweler of France. Germain Bapst was a partner in the Bapst & Falize jewelry house, which produced work from 1880-1892.
6. The descendants of Louis Philippe I, King of the French, who reigned from 1830 to 1848. There are still Orléanist pretenders to the French throne today; the current head of the line is Henri d'Orléans, the Count of Paris.
7. A district of Paris (part of the 7th arrondissement) that was traditionally populated by the Parisian elite, including members of the nobility and aristocracy.