On this day in 1887, one of the most important jewelry collectors in American history was born. Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to a cereal fortune, absolutely loved collecting and wearing jewelry, including pieces with royal provenance. Today, we’ve got a look at six of these pieces, all of which reside today in a pair of American museums.
This magnificent tiara was made in 1810 by Nitot, court jeweler to Napoleon Bonaparte, for Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie Louise. The diadem was originally set with bright green emeralds. The tiara and its accompanying jewels stayed with Marie Louise’s family after the fall of Napoleon, but eventually, it was sold. Van Cleef & Arpels bought the tiara in the 1950s and replaced the emeralds with turquoises. The remodeled tiara was purchased by Marjorie Merriweather Post in the 1960s. After wearing and enjoying it for a few years, Post donated the tiara to the Smithsonian in 1971. Today, it is displayed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
This stunning diamond necklace was also made by Nitot for Empress Marie Louise. It was a gift to her from Napoleon in 1811 to mark the birth of their son. Much later, Marie Louise bequeathed the necklace to one of her sisters-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria. When Sophie died in 1872, her three surviving sons, Emperor Franz Josef, Archduke Karl Ludwig, and Archduke Ludwig Viktor, jointly inherited the jewel. Karl Ludwig’s wife became the next wearer of the piece. And from there the story gets very interesting, involving an assassination, a war, a whole lot of financial trouble, a Hollywood film, and an American court case. (You can read all about it here.) Eventually, Harry Winston acquired the necklace, and he sold it to Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1960. Two years later, she donated it to the Smithsonian, and it’s also now on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The Marie Antoinette Earrings
These remarkable diamond earrings, with pendants measuring at 14 and 20 carats, are thought to have been passed down through French royal history. They’re said to have originally belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette, and they later also apparently adorned Empress Eugenie. After the sale of the French crown jewels in 1887, they were supposedly purchased by members of the Yusupov family. Prince Felix Yusupov and his mother, Princess Zinaida, sold the earrings to Pierre Cartier in the 1920s. In turn, in 1928, he sold the jewels to Marjorie Merriweather Post. Cartier added new triangular studs to the earrings, and Harry Winston later made a lighter platinum replica of the original silver setting. In 1964, the earrings were donated to the Smithsonian by Eleanor Barzin, Post’s daughter. They’re on display today at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The Maximilian Emerald Ring
This stunning ring is set with a spectacular 21-carat Colombian emerald. Its first documented owner was Emperor Maximilian, the Austrian archduke who reigned as Mexico’s emperor for three years in the 1860s. Maximilian’s reign was disastrous, and he was executed in 1867. His widow, the Belgian princess Carlota, returned to Europe and lived as a reclusive widow, suffering from increasing mental difficulties, until her death in 1927. In 1928, the emerald was purchased by Marjorie Merriweather Post. The Smithsonian calls the emerald “the first important gemstone to enter Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection.” The current ring setting of the emerald was made by Cartier in 1949. Post donated the ring to the Smithsonian in 1964, and it is also on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The Diamond and Ruby Demi-Parure
This suite of nineteenth-century jewels includes a necklace and a pair of earrings featuring rubies and diamonds set in silver and gold. Thought to have been made in France, the pieces are said to have belonged to Princess Eugenia Maximilianovna of Leuchtenberg. Eugenia was the daughter of the 3rd Duke of Leuchtenberg (a grandson of Joséphine de Beauharnais) and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna (a daughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia). She married Duke Alexander of Oldenburg in 1868. Alexander and Eugenia managed to flee Russia right before the revolution, and they sold her jewels in Switzerland in the 1920s. Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased this necklace and its accompanying earrings in 1966. Today, they’re part of the collection at Hillwood, the museum on the grounds of her former estate in Washington, D.C.
The grand nuptial crown worn by Romanov imperial brides was made in 1840 using diamonds taken from ornaments that belonged to Catherine the Great. The stones are attached to a frame covered in pink velvet, with flaps at the base that allowed it to be pinned in the bride’s hair. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, each Romanov bride wore the crown for her wedding ceremony. At some point after the revolution, the crown was acquired by Marjorie Merriweather Post. It remains part of the collection at Hillwood in Washington, D.C.