November’s Magnificent Jewels sale at Sotheby’s in Geneva will include a magnificent diamond and emerald jewel with impeccable royal provenance: Empress Eugénie’s Emerald Bracelet.
On Wednesday, November 9, Sotheby’s will offer this antique diamond and emerald bracelet, which dates to the 1850s, as part of their Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale in Geneva. The lot notes for the auction describe the bracelet as a “fine emerald and diamond bracelet” with a “step-cut emerald, within a stylised floral surround of circular-cut and cushion-shaped diamonds” and “an articulated openwork strap set with similarly-cut diamonds” in silver and gold. The emerald set in the bracelet comes from Colombia.
The first documented owner of the bracelet was Eugénie de Montijo, one of the most fascinating royal women of the nineteenth century. She was born into a family of Spanish aristocrats in Granada in 1826. Educated in Paris, Eugénie caught the eye of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1849, when he was President of France. After seizing power by force, he became Emperor Napoleon III of France in 1852, and when he married Eugénie the following year, she became an empress.
The collection of jewelry that the glamorous Empress Eugénie included a set of jewels set with diamonds and emeralds. The suite included a dazzling tiara made for her by the Parisian jeweler Eugène Fontenay. She wears the tiara in the portrait above, which dates to the 1860s. Emeralds were among Eugénie’s favorite gemstones, in part because they looked so beautiful with her red hair.
The emerald and diamond bracelet that will be sold at Sotheby’s also comes from the same suite of imperial emerald jewelry. In the image above, from the same 1860s portrait session, Eugénie is wearing a bracelet on her right wrist that looks very much like the one that will be auctioned shortly in Switzerland.
Here’s another view of the bracelet for comparison purposes. Eugénie wore her emeralds throughout her husband’s reign, which came to a sudden halt in 1871 after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The family fled into exile in England, settling in Chislehurst in Kent. Eugénie began to search for ways to support herself and her husband and son in their new life. Selling off pieces of jewelry that she’d managed to bring out of France seemed like the ideal way to earn extra income. In 1872, she auctioned numerous pieces at Christie’s in London.
But not all of her emeralds were sold in that auction. She kept some pieces in her jewelry box, parceling them out over the years as gifts to royal friends. The lucky recipients included her goddaughter, Queen Victoria Eugenie (“Ena”) of Spain. When Empress Eugénie died in 1920, she bequeathed nine of the emeralds to Ena in her will. Queen Ena took the emeralds to a Spanish jewelry firm, Sanz, and had them set in a necklace. She also wore the jewel occasionally as a bandeau-style tiara.
Over the years, Ena had the emerald necklace remodeled. In 1962, she sold the jewel and a few other emerald pieces to help pay for the wedding of her grandson, Infante Juan Carlos (later King Juan Carlos of Spain). Harry Winston bought the necklace and used the emeralds in a new necklace for another royal women: Farah Pahlavi of Iran. She wears the necklace above in the early 1960s with her Seven Emeralds Tiara. The necklace has apparently since left Iran, though not with the former imperial family.
The diamond and emerald bracelet took another path entirely. Empress Eugénie sold the jewel privately to Russell Sturgis, an American-born merchant who became head of Barings Bank in London. (Eugénie and her late husband, who died in 1873, both banked with Baring Brothers.) Sturgis died in 1887, and at some point, ownership of the bracelet was transferred to his daughter, Mary. (Like her good friend, Queen Mary, Mary Sturgis was called “May.”) May was married twice: first to Leopold Richard Seymour, son of the British diplomat Sir George Hamilton Seymour, and then after his death to the lawyer and politician Bertram Falle. In the 1930s, May used her fortune to buy a peerage for her second husband, elevating them to the titles of Lord and Lady Portsea.
During World War II, May Portsea decided to sell Empress Eugénie’s emerald and diamond bracelet to a new owner. It was purchased by a private collector, a Mr. Peterson, in an auction at Christie’s in London on May 1, 1940. The purchase price for the piece was £2,000.
Four decades later, the bracelet was sold by Christie’s for a second time. On October 6, 1998, the bracelet was sold again in a public auction. This time, the jewel fetched £45,500.
And now, the bracelet will be sold again, this time through Sotheby’s in Geneva. The auction will take place on Wednesday, November 9, and the estimate for the bracelet is set at 60,000-80,000 Swiss francs (approximately £52,000-70,000 or $60,000-81,000 USD).