This week, two of Monaco’s princesses celebrated birthdays—Princess Caroline on Tuesday, and Princess Charlene today. In their honor, we’re taking a look at a spectacular piece of jewelry that has been worn by both of them: the Duchess of Valentinois’s magnificent diamond floral corsage ornament.
The nineteenth-century jewel is a flexible garland of wildflowers, including wild roses and other blossoms, plus leaves, buds, and stems, all rendered in diamonds. The piece is a corsage ornament, designed to be draped across the wearer’s bodice. It’s also able to be taken apart and worn in different sections, as brooches and clips or even hair ornaments.
The jewel comes from the collection of Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois. Charlotte’s road to royalty was a meandering one. Born in Algeria in 1898, she was the daughter of Hereditary Prince Louis of Monaco and his lover, the cabaret singer Juliette Louvet. Louis reportedly wanted to marry Juliette (and according to some sources, he actually did), but his father, Prince Albert I, forbade the union. Little Charlotte Louvet, as she was known at her birth, wasn’t eligible to have a place in Monaco’s line of succession—until her father’s failure to marry or produce another legitimate heir put her squarely in the spotlight.
In 1911, when Charlotte was 13, a law was passed in Monaco that recognized her as Louis’s daughter and made her officially part of the princely family. That law was later declared to be invalid, and a second law was subsequently passed that allowed an heir to the throne to adopt his successor. Louis formally adopted Charlotte in 1919, when she was 21, making her Princess Charlotte of Monaco. Now second in line to the throne, she was also given the title of Duchess of Valentinois.
Charlotte’s father became Prince of Monaco in 1922, and she was elevated to the title of Hereditary Princess. Two years earlier, Charlotte had married a French aristocrat, Pierre de Polignac, with whom she had two children, Prince Rainier and Princess Antoinette. Their marriage ended in divorce in the 1930s.
The Duchess of Valentinois, it turned out, didn’t particularly want to be the Sovereign Princess of Monaco after all. Having secured the succession by producing a son and a daughter, she wanted to live a life of her own choosing. She made a failed attempt to renounce her succession rights in favor of her son, Rainier, when she divorced his father in 1933. But the fact that Rainier was only ten years old at the time quashed that idea. She was more successful the second time around. On May 30, 1944, the day before Rainier’s 21st birthday, she officially renounced the title of hereditary princess.
Rainier was more popular than his mother, and the people were pleased when he succeeded his grandfather as Prince Rainier III in 1949. He was enthroned the following year. Charlotte settled down at the Château de Marchais in France, where she lived with her lover, the convicted jewel thief René Girier.
The relationship between Charlotte and René Girier is an awfully fascinating story—we’ll save the details for another time—but she managed to hang on to her personal jewels during their affair. When she died in 1977, her granddaughter, Princess Caroline, began wearing most of the grand pieces that remained from her collection. The diamond floral garland is one of them. Caroline has worn sections of the ornament in her hair, and she’s used other sections as brooches. Above, during the royal wedding celebrations in Madrid in 2004, she has part of the garland pinned to the bodice of her dress.
And here, Caroline wears a section of the garland pinned to her gown during the National Day gala at the opera in Monte Carlo in November 2008.
When Caroline’s brother, Prince Albert II, was preparing to marry Charlene Wittstock in 2011, Caroline stepped in to offer a dazzling jewelry loan to her new sister-in-law. Charlene wore Princess Charlotte’s naturalistic floral sprays arranged in her hair for the religious wedding ceremony, which was held in the courtyard of the Palais Princier in July 2011.
In an interview with Vogue, Princess Charlene explained, “Princess Caroline has lent me some beautiful diamond hair clips which belonged to her grandmother. I did have a tiara made by Van Cleef & Arpels but I decided to put it on display at the Oceanographic Museum.” Princess Charlotte’s diamond garland certainly made for a classic and beautiful adornment for the princess bride.
In June 2019, the floral garland made its appearance on another Grimaldi family bride. Princess Caroline’s elder daughter, Charlotte Casiraghi, wore a section of the ornament in her hair for her wedding to Dimitri Rassam in Provence. Charlotte shares a name with her Grimaldi great-grandmother, so it seemed fitting that she sparkled in one of her jewels during her wedding festivities.