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JEWELLERY AND THE NAPOLEONIC COURT PART II

The years that followed the French Revolution represented a total rejection of the Old Regime. Yet in 1795, the Directoire period brought with it a return to luxury, which was the perfect alibi to revive jewellery at the entire Court. This is part II.

Napoleon covered his wife, Josephine de Beauharnais with jewels: a set of pearls, one of opals and diamonds, one of antique stones, a set of rubies, a set of amethysts and diamonds, a set of turquoises and one of garnets. She also bought other jewels which she had changed according to the latest fashion. The Empress was the best customer of each of the great jewellers of the time, such as Biennais, Nitot, Fonsier or Mellerio. She made several orders per month to tailor her jewellery collection to her wardrobe. Sometimes her lady in waiting, the Countess of Segur, went to place the orders so as to appear more discreet. The sets of very fashionable jewellery were made up of necklaces, bracelets, drop earrings, a belt buckle and different head dresses. For the court’s great festivities, they were made of diamonds or coloured precious stones. A generous person, she also gave many jewels to the ladies of her court as a gauge of friendship and to foreigners as diplomatic presents. The set with the “drinking doves” motif is a good example of such a gift. The set includes a chain with enamelled gold plates set with diamonds showing four drinking doves. It is engraved with the following inscription: “Given on 16th April 1803 by Empress Josephine to Eugenie de Serraz, maternal grandmother of Henri de Panisse”. Josephine’s staff sometimes received clothes that she judged no longer fashionable. Other ladies, such as the beautiful Madame Tallien started new fashions. She wore gold bangles on her arms and legs and rings on her feet. This short lived fashion was followed by a few but, more importantly, it marked the beginning of a new taste for flashy luxury. As we have said above, the jewels that were given as private gifts were not part of the Crown jewels, which belonged to the state. The latter was mostly made up of the most beautiful diamonds in Europe and state-owned precious stones. Napoleon had many jewels reset to befit the Imperial style as only the stones, and not their settings, came under state protection. He began to acquire more jewels to add to the Crown collection following his second marriage, to Marie-Louise. In Napoleonic times, diamonds came from Brazil and were cut in Amsterdam. The centre stones were usually prong set (with nothing behind the stone) to give maximum sparkle, while small diamonds were still rose cut and bezel mounted. The settings were often made of silver to accentuate the sparkle and the back was often gold to avoid rust stains on clothing. Each week, large parties were held in the Tuileries gardens and each member of the Court was obliged to attend. The ladies competed with each other over the richness and splendour of their jewels. Foreigners too, ambassadors for instance, had to follow the example of the Court so as to keep in favour with his majesty the Emperor. Diamonds shone in ballrooms, at concerts, at private parties. This exuberance was heightened following Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise de Habsburg. Wars, conquests and diplomatic relations had an influence on countries and the arts. It was the case in France with the campaign in Egypt and especially Italy where the Pope Pius VII let the French take possession of the Vatican’s treasures by way of support for Napoleon. Later, the discovery of the Pompeii and Tivoli sites also had an influence on French jewels with the neo-classic style.

 

Text ©World Luxury Jewellers

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