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Royal French Tiaras: The Empress Marie-Louise Diadem

Yet another tiara that saw a major transformation. This time French. And this time not dismantled at the hands of a bored Princess. What's the story with Empress Marie-Louise's fantastic tiara? Hang on to your hats because here we go.
The Empress Marie-Louise Diadem
A second view of Marie Louise’s tiara with the turquoise added by VCA in the 1960s.

Yet another tiara that saw a major transformation. This time French. And this time not dismantled at the hands of a bored royal. What’s the story with Empress Marie-Louise’s fantastic tiara? Hang on to your hats because here we go.

The Empress Marie-Louise Diadem
The tiara as it originally looked when Napoleon commissioned it.

Having begun its life as the keystone piece of an emerald and diamond parure, ordered by none other than Napoleon himself for his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria, this tiara was a show stopper. Initially designed and created holding 79 emeralds and more than 1,000 diamonds (about 700 carats) in a scrolling design of palmettes and medallions in silver and gold in 1810, the tiara was part of a full set of jewels created for the new Empress, as would have been customary of the time.

Empress Marie-Louise wearing her Emerald and diamond tiara, with the matching necklace and earrings from the parure.

And from what we can tell, she loved it. Her portrait was painted wearing the tiara on more than one occasion (along with portions of the rest of the ensemble). She can be seen in the image above wearing the spectacular tiara, along with the matching necklace and earrings. And the set made it out of France with Marie-Louise when her husband’s empire fell. When she died, she bequeathed the set to one of two people (there seems to be some dissonance between authorities on this matter, as to whom was actually the recipient): her aunt, Archduchess Elise, according to the Smithsonian, or her cousin Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, according to the Louvre. In either case, a descendant sold the set to Van Cleef & Arpels in 1953.

Empress Marie-Louise Diadem
The Empress Marie-Louise Diadem post alteration with the replacement turquoises.

And VCA, wanting to capitalize on their new acquisition, decided to break up the tiara and a hair comb, removing the emeralds, so they could sell them independently, offering the “general public” a chance to own, “An emerald for you from the historic Napoleonic Tiara,” (the necklace and earrings retained their emeralds and now reside at the Louvre). Heartbreaking. In 1962, the missing emeralds were replaced by 79 Persian turquoises, totaling 540 carats, creating a major change in the look of the Empress Marie-Louise Diadem.

The tiara on display at its current home – The Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

A change that caught the eye of one Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American heiress and great jewelry collector. Typically one to acquire Faberge and Russian works, she bought the diadem from VCA and wore it herself, before gifting it to the Smithsonian, where it now resides. The change from emeralds to turquoises was quite controversial. You either love it or hate it, it seems. I do have to wonder what Marie-Louise would think about the alteration. What do you think? Have you seen it in person? Tell me about it in the comments below.


28 Responses

  1. I think the use of other stones in a lot of the newer royals JEWLERY makes the Royals not so untouchable by the people and the so considered lesser stones/gems are very beautiful I think that other gems/stones would make tiaras more of this millennium and change would be able to show history in other kinds of light on the Royals

  2. Thanks for your writings. Beautiful tiara either way. I would wear either one and be very happy!

  3. I think they should have left the emeralds. I love turquoise but it seems to casual a stone to go with all those diamonds.

    1. Evelyn: I can’t say I would turn it down if someone offered it to me. But do you feel the turquoise overpowers the diamonds some? I’ve wondered about that.

      Anyway, thanks for reading!


  4. Love your interesting facts about these tiaras. I am addicted to your details. So much beauty and intrigue in tiaras. Keep writing. Facinating

    1. Mary,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. They make all the research and writing worth it. And thanks for stopping by and taking a few minutes to read them!


  5. I think I love both tiaras. Something about that turquoise makes it look almost magical. What an interesting choice by VCA!

    1. I have to say I agree with you. While I love the emeralds, the turquoise makes it seem almost like an entirely different tiara. It’s almost Disney Princess perfect.

      Thanks for stopping by and reading! ~WendyKate

  6. Stumbled upon this site by happy coincidence! (now I’m devouring many pages/posts, esp. tiaras)
    While historically I think it’s tragic it was changed so drastically, I love it both ways… maybe even leaning towards the turquoise. Altho I was very surprised to learn the date it was reset! I do remember reading several places (yrs ago; sorry, can’t recall where) that at end of Victorian era/beginning of Edwardian, truly wealthy ppl — who already owned at least one major diamond tiara, with/without other precious gems — made tiaras with SEMI-precious stones de rigueur, by saying “diamonds are *exploded*” (no longer in fashion; maybe even a tad nouveau riche?). This is where/when turquoise came into high regard, as well as coral, carnelian, lapis lazuli, etc. In short, a reverse snobbish way to tell “them” from “us”. Sadly, many of those tiaras & parures were also disassembled & reused within 50 yrs.
    Late to the party, but thank you for excellent info!

    1. Hi, Deb! Thanks for reading. I would love to get my hands on the article you referenced to see who wrote it. Isn’t it funny how the fads come and go, often with the nouveau-riche wanting to find a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of us? 😉

  7. Yes to see this tiara in person is a sight to behold. It is aboslutely stunning with the very high quality Persian turquoise contrasting against the diamonds. It lights up the room.

    1. Thanks, Janet. To be fair to the turquoise, I’m told that you really would have to see it in person. Truly high end Persian turquoise is a sight to behold. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen turquoise in a tiara in person, but I sure would like to. 😉

  8. Hated it!! Looking at the painting the Empress looked Amazing in the emerald and diamonds. The turquoise looks IMO cheap. 🤷🏾‍♀️ Thanks for the wonderful tiara tales!!

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