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.
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.
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.
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.
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.