Who, among us, like Audrey Hepburn, the woman in Givenchy’s little black dress in the American film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, herself weighted down in jewels looking through Tiffany’s window, hasn’t felt the richness and power of diamonds?
I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like… It’s like Tiffany’s… Not that I give a hoot about jewelry. Diamonds, yes. But it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty, said Miss Hepburn, as Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Who couldn’t feel the transformative expression of the dramatic –– through statement-making pieces on display in the joailleries at the Place Vendôme in the heart of Paris?
My reason for choosing diamonds is that, dense as they are, they represent the greatest worth in the smallest volume, quoted the 20th century Parisian fashion designer, Mademoiselle ‘Coco’ Chanel.
French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III
Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, lusted after diamonds. She was a compulsive bejeweled clotheshorse and known as the most stylish woman of her day. She favored furniture and interior design in the style popular during the reign of Louis XVI “Sun King.” In 1885, when the Empress wore the new cage crinolines, European fashion followed suit. The fashion trendsetter was famed for her oversize crinolines, tight fitting riding habits, Worth gowns, and her diamond jewelry. When persuaded by her legendary couturier, Charles Worth, to abandon the huge skirts nearly twenty-five years later, the silhouette of womens’ dresses adopted her style.
As Empress, Eugénie had access to the French Crown Jewels and retained the serves of some of the finest jewelers of the period. In additon to resetting old pieces, the Empress also added new pieces to the Crown Jewels of France. Her zeal for diamonds was so inexhaustible that she even commissioned a copy made of the Hope diamond (previously “Le bleu de France”) a large 45.52 carat deep-blue diamond. Her elegant fashion and legendary jewels were the subjects of innumerable paintings by her favorite portraitist, Franz Winterhalter.
The Eugénie Diamond
Catherine the Great of Russia also had a lust for jewelry and access to the Russian Crown Jewels, commissioning the best jewelers of the period to design and redesign pieces of the collection. A diamond of perfect 51 carats, pear-shaped and beautifully cut, was the centerpiece of a hair ornament she once wore.
In 1853, Napoleon III purchased the diamond then known as the “Potemkin” and presented it as a wedding gift to his bride Eugénia. The Potemkin diamond was set in an exquisite diamond necklace that she wore, and the Empress renamed the stone the “Eugénie,” the name by which the diamond is known today.
Empress Eugénie’s Great Diamond Cluster
Empress Eugénie’s Great Diamond Cluster is a perfect example of the Second Empire style, in particular, for its passementerie, the art of making intricate trimmings or edgings. In 1855, the Empress Eugénie’s jeweler made a belt for the Empress studded with 4,485 diamonds. The piece was displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris that same year.
By 1864, the belt had been dismantled and redesigned for the Empress. Its centerpiece, a magnificent diamond bow cluster, was elaborated even more by five diamond pampilles, (pendants), and a pair of diamond tassels.
Empress Eugénie’s Crown
As it was important for the Imperial regime to impress the whole world, Napoleon III had exhibited the Crown diamonds, which he had refashioned for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, in 1855. Although the Emperor and the Empress never underwent a coronation; a consort crown was created specially for her with a portion of these stones.
The crown of the Empress made of chased gold and 2,480 diamonds and 56 emeralds is an exquisite example of the Second Empire and the jeweler’s art. The design of the Empress’s Crown follows a pattern found on the Imperial Arms of the First Empire. It is made of eight eagles alternating with long laurel leaves that stem from palmettes, an artistic motif resembling the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree. The eagle and palmette themes are recurring imperial symbols. The Emperor’s crown, thought to be of a similar design, is now lost.
French Crown Jewels: The “Regent” diamond
The diamond known as the “Regent,” discovered in 1698 in Golconda, India, and cut in England, was purchased for the French Crown at the request of the Regent Philippe d’Orléans in 1717. Until that time the Regent surpassed all diamonds known in the western world.
The Regent was first worn by Louis XV, in 1721. For the coronation of Louis XVI, in 1775, a new crown was made featuring the Regent on the front. Stolen in 1792, and found hidden in roof timbers the following year, the diamond was used as security by the Directoire and later the Consulat, before being redeemed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801, and was once mounted on the hilt of the Emperor’s sword.
As the ruling regime changed, the diamond was consecutively mounted in the crowns of Louis XVIII, Charles X and Napoleon III, and at last on the Grecian diadem of Empress Eugénie.
French Crown Jewels: Empress Eugénie
Read part two of Empress Eugénie and the French Crown Jewels, A Woman’s Paris™ blog The French Crown Jewels: Empress Eugénie
Paris, France: XXVe Biennale des Antiquaires
Lusting for diamonds?
Lovers of art seeking to acquire the finest examples of jewelry, fine art and antiques can view the exhibits of 80 art dealers and 7 jewelers who will present their most exquisite masterpieces at the 25th Biennale des Antiquaires.
Fine examples of Archaeology, Asian art, Pre-Columbian art, Oceanic arts, books and manuscripts, furniture from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, orders of chivalry, sculpture, old master and modern paintings, and tapestries. The jewelers include Cartier, Chanel, Dior, Harry Winston, Louis Vuitton, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
Vocabulary: French to English translations
Bling-Bling: Informal, expensive, ostentatious jewelry or the wearing of them. Origin 1990s.
Diadem: A jeweled crown or headband worn as a symbol of sovereignty.
Diamant: From the Old French word for diamonds.
Joaillerie: Jewelry store, jeweler.
Palmettes: Artistic motif resembling the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree.
Pampilles: A long stand.
Passementerie: The art of making intricate trimmings or edgings.
Book: recommended by A Woman’s Paris™ Jewels in the Louvre (Musée du Louvre)
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