12 August 2017

Empress Eugenie's Pearl Tiara

The tiara on display in the Louvre (Wikimedia Commons)

Through all of the royal upheaval of nineteenth-century France, one thing remained constant: the women of the royal and imperial families were top-notch jewelry wearers. Today's rather magnificent pearl diadem traces its way back to the country’s last empress, wending its way through other royal families before finally returning back home.

Empress Eugenie in the tiara, as depicted by Winterhalter

This tiara, like so many others, was originally a wedding gift. It was given to Eugénie by her husband, Emperor Napoleon III. The piece was a new one, made by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier, but the jeweler had gems with pedigree at his disposal. Stones that had once been worn by Empress Marie Louise (the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte), and the Duchess of Angoulême (the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette — remember her, owner of spectacular diamonds and emeralds?) were used to create the new tiara. All in all, there are more than two hundred pearls and nearly two thousand diamonds in this sparkler, which is made of silver.

Eugenie wears the tiara in a detail from Ward's depiction of the 1855 state visit to Windsor (Royal Collection)

Eugenie wore the tiara extensively during her husband’s reign, including during a state visit to Windsor Castle in 1855. Winterhalter even painted her in it on more than one occasion. But even though the tiara may have been a wedding gift, it was a part of the French crown jewels, just like the Duchess of Angoulême’s emerald tiara had been. Accordingly, when Napoleon and Eugénie were exiled to England in 1870, the tiara stayed in France. It followed the same path as its emerald Angoulême cousin, going on display at the Paris World’s Fair and the Louvre Museum before being auctioned off by the government.

Three portraits of Princess Margarethe of Thurn and Taxis wearing the tiara

But while the Angoulême tiara bounced around England for a century, this tiara ended up residing for a hundred years in another royal collection. It was acquired by Prince Albert of Thurn and Taxis in 1890 as a wedding gift for his new bride, Archduchess Margarethe Klementina of Austria.

The stayed with the Thurn and Taxis family for decades upon decades. It was eventually worn by the wild and wonderful Princess Gloria at her wedding to the flamboyant Prince Johannes in 1980. Television cameras captured Gloria wearing the tiara during an interview at her wedding reception.

Princess Margarethe of Thurn and Taxis wears the tiara (Grand Ladies Site)

Gloria sold the tiara as a part of the massive, necessary unloading of family assets after Johannes’s death in 1992. But, just like the Angoulême, there was a buyer ready and waiting: the Friends of the Louvre, who paid more than a million dollars (USD) for the sparkler. The two tiaras were reunited in the same grand palace-turned-museum in France after a century apart. Don’t you just love a happy ending? (And a tiara that you can go and see whenever you’re in Paris?)

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post, with new text/images.