The French Crown Jewels -- The Beginning to the End
On September 4th, 1870, when the insurrection broke out in Paris, several people entered the Treasury in search of the Crown Jewels. All they found were some models of jewelry set with fake stones. The discovery led to a rumor that all the real stones had been taken out of their settings by the Empress. When the Commune began, delegates were sent to the Bank of France to take possession of the Crown Jewels: they refused to believe the Bank officials who asserted that they were not there and it took a lot to persuade the Commune of the truth. The Crown Jewels were brought back to Paris in 1872 and the following year they were checked by a commission and then placed in the cellars of the Ministry of Finance. The stones which had been bought from the Civil List and were valued at 100,000 francs were handed over to the Empress's representatives.
It was not long before a proposal for the sale of the Crown Jewels gained favor. The indefatigable protagonist of this proposal was a deputy named Benjamin Raspail. Twenty-two years previously, in 1848, his father had unsuccessfully brought a similar proposal before the National Assembly. Benjamin Raspail tabled a motion in the Chamber of Deputies on June 7th, 1878 but a long time passed before the motion received approval by 342 votes to 85 on June 20th, 1882. After that it took four years to pass through the Senate. Although there was a considerable measure of agreement that the Crown Jewels should be sold there was a great deal of disagreement as to what purpose the proceeds should be put. Finally on December 7th, 1886 a modified bill was passed. Under this enactment certain objects of historical, artistic or scientific merit were to be preserved in the Louvre, the Natural History Museum and the School of Mines. The Imperial Crown and swords of Louis XVIII were to be destroyed and the remainder to be sold by public auction, the proceeds to be converted into Government stocks.
The objects which were destined to be preserved in the Louvre, the Natural History Museum and the School of Mines were handed over without incident. The Imperial Crown consisted of a jeweled circlet on the upper rim of which rested eight Imperial Eagles, with elevated wings, between which were leaf ornaments from behind which sprang half-arches of Greek honeysuckle floriation to form an ogee (an elongated 'S'), on which rested an orb and cross.
Benjamin Raspail, who had a personal grudge against Napoleon III, demanded the privilege of destroying the crown. "I myself will break up this crown and send it to the foundry," he declared. But shortly before the due date he had a fall and was unable to attend and had to content himself with receiving as a present the hammer used to demolish the crown.
The Crown Jewels which were to be sold were taken from the Louvre to the Salle des Etats in the Pavillon de Flora, where on April 20th, 1887 they were put on display until May 12th. The sale, which lasted from May 12th to the 23rd, attracted world-wide interest and the crown jewelers of Belgium, Spain, Italy, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Persia, besides leading jewelers from England, America, Holland, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey, Egypt, Havana and Tunis attended. The gross proceeds of the sale were 6,864,050 francs to which may be added the receipts from the value of the gold and stones of the ornaments melted down, part of the furnishings of the sale room, and a 5% commission paid by the purchasers, which brought the total to 7,221,360 francs. The expenditure on the sale was 293,851 francs, leaving the net proceeds of the sale at 6,927,509 francs. This money was invested in Government stocks bearing 3% interest. The sale which had been announced a long time ahead had depressed the market and the jewelry trade was greatly relieved when the sale was over.
The articles which it had been decided to preserve because of their historic or artistic interest are still displayed at the Galerie d' Apollon, aka the Gallery of Apollo at the Louvre, where the surviving ornaments of the coronation regalia and many other treasures have been assembled.
The most important of these is the Regent Diamond which, according to valuation, represented two-thirds of the value of the Crown Jewels. Although this stone had been valued on many occasions by expert jewelers using a formula by which diamonds are valued it must be taken as only a theoretical value. In 1960 it was said to be worth £450,000, but it was doubtful if a purchaser could be found for it at that price. Its history has already been traced.
The Hortensia Diamond is a five-sided stone of 20 carats and of a beautiful pink color. It was wrongly described as the eighth Mazarin at the time of the sale but is probably one of the stones purchased from Jean Baptiste Tavernier and set in the third fleuron for a buttonhole mentioned in the 1691 inventory.
The so-called Reliquary Brooch has nothing about it to justify that name. It is preserved in the Lovure and is a pendant brooch containing some large diamonds including two Sancy cut stones of a brown tint weighing about 21.44 (old) carats each (they are the Mazarins XVII and XVIII), each of which had been among Louis XIV's set of buttons. Altogether there are 93 brilliants weighing 143.84 (old) carats. The Commission on the Crown Diamonds in their reports of May 6th, 1882 and February 12th, 1884 described the brooch as "obviously a work of the period Louis XV". Vanderheym describes it as containing the first diamonds cut in France in the 1400s and states that the setting was made in 1698; no doubt it was for this supposed historical association that it was decided to preserve it. In fact, it was made by Alfred Bapst in 1855 and the design was inspired by an 18th-century model.
The sword made for the coronation of Charles X contains 1,576 brilliants which weigh 330.75 (old) carats chosen from amongst the most beautiful stones in the Crown Jewels. Vanderheym describes it as so perfectly done that the hilt feels like ivory to the touch. The sword is preserved in the Louvre.
The coronation crown of Louis XV is set with facsimiles of the original stones which naturally lack the brilliant fire of diamonds and as a result give the crown a rather tawdry appearance which does not do justice to the splendor of the original. But the false stones are of historical interest as they give an idea of some of the celebrated diamonds which were set in the crown in 1722.
The Crown of Charlemagne made for Napoleon I was made by Nitot in 1804 and the cameos, set in gold, were intended to give an antique appearance.
The reliquary known as the Crown of St. Louis, because of the saintly king who gave it to the Dominicans, was acquired by the Louvre shortly after World War II.
The Dey of Algiers' watch is a very fine piece of workmanship. It was given to Louis XIV by Baba Ali, Dey of Algiers, on the occasion of his investiture in 1710.
The Chimera is a jewel in whose center piece is a fine pearl in an enamel setting of very excellent work. It dates from the 1600s and Louis XIV attached the greatest importance to it as a fetish.
The Elephant of the Danish Order was one of the items that was kept from being auctioned in 1887 and is an admirable specimen of enamel work. It is now in the Louvre.
Apart from these items which were saved from the Crown Jewels there are still in the Louvre other coronation ornaments of varying antiquitty which were 'restored' for the coronation of Napoleon I and Charles X.
The most important item is the Sword of Charlemagne known as Joyeuse. The hilt and the ornamentation of the scabbard and hilt are in gold. The pommel is adorned with the intertwined figures of two fabulous birds resembling phoenixes. The guard terminates with two winged lions, the eyes being of lapis lazuli. The best authorities attribute the handle to between 1000 and 1100 AD although some consider that it has feature which could date it back to the Carolingian period. The grip was remade in the 1800s but was restored for the coronation of Charles X when the blue velvet covering was used. The goldsmith's work on the scabbard is enriched with sapphires, topazes, amethysts, a garnet and a rock crystal. The sword and scabbard in its original state can be seen in above in Rigaud's portrait of Louis XIV.
The coronation spurs are made of gold and were restored in the 1800s when some garnets were added and the fastenings of gold and velvet were provided.
The royal scepter consists of the scepter proper, a short rod with a lily resting on a ball, on the top of which rests a detailed statue of Charlemagne seated on a throne, with a closed crown on his head and a long scepter in his right hand and an orb in his left. On the step of the throne is the inscription Sanctus Karolus Magnus, Italia, Roma, Germania. On the base of the lily are three bas-reliefs of subjects taken from the Chronicle of Archbishop Turpin. The first subject is taken from the beginnings of the Chronicle in which the Apostle St. John ordered Charlemagne to deliver Spain and Galicia from the power of the Saracens. The second is taken from Chapter XIX of the Chronicle: "How the lances and axes of the Christian knights were found all flowing and rooted in the earth." The third subject is from Chapter XXXII of the Chronicle, and represents the death of Charlemagne. The scepter was adapted for Louis XIV into a long scepter by the addition of a plain gold staff 6 feet high which could have been seperated into three pieces. The present staff (formerly that belonging to the Precentor of St. Denis) bears the following inscription in old French:
Of silver this baton was made
In the year MCC eighty [sic] [1280 AD?]
Fourteen, neither more nor less
(Of) those who will hold it in their hands
Will pray when life is ended
That his soul shall be transported to heaven
...Let it be kept
and he looked at great feasts
For to maintain loyalty
The Precentor should carry it in his hand.
Today the inscription is covered with purple velvet embroidered with fleurs-de-lis, added for the coronation of Charles X.
The clasp of the royal mantle, sometimes called the Clasp of St. Louis, is a large lozenge-shaped chased silver plate in the center of which is a large fleur-de-lis picked out with jewels. Several stones are now missing but 6 amethysts, 6 emeralds and 11 garnets remain while the framework is adorned with 26 garnets and 2 sapphires. Clasps of this sort had been worn by the kings of France for several centuries and certainly earlier than St. Louis, but this one, despite its inscription in the inventories of St. Denis, is attributed to the 1300s and is similar to the one described in an inventory of the jewels of Charles V taken in 1379.
The signet of St. Louis which was formerly kept at St. Denis has on the bezel a pale, table-cut aquamarine in which is engraved the figure of St. Louis standing crowned and carrying a scepter and the letters S.L., --- Sigillim Ludovici. The setting is of gold and on the hoop of the ring is a fleur-de-lis in niello. As the figure of St. Louis has a nimbus it must be of a later date than his canonization in 1297, twenty years after his death.
The coronation ring of Napoleon was given to the Louvre in the early 1950s by M. Lucien Basyangen of Geneva.
Such are all that remain of the former glories of the French coronation regalia and crown jewels. Is it possible that some other ornaments have survived and lie forgotten in some jewelry box? What has happened to the objects connected with the monarchy sold in 1887 and to the ornaments from the royal tombs? Perhaps more will eventually be found and added to these relics of the French monarchy.
A pearl diadem created in 1853 containing 998 brilliants weighing 64.22 (old) carats total (see item #48). It also contains 212 pearls. Its estimate was 100,000 francs but it sold for 78,100 francs to Mr. Julius Jacoby. It is 7 cm tall, 19 cm long and 18.5 cm wide. It was given to the Louvre in 1992 by a group called Friends of the Louvre.
The auction catalogue (#27) describes this, the diadem of the Duchess of Angoulême, thusly: "A diadem of emeralds and brilliants. In all 1,031 brilliants weighing 176 carats and 40 emeralds weighing 77 carats were employed. It was made by Frédéric Bapst & Bros. in July of 1820 and had been worn successively by the Royal Princess and finally by Empress Eugénie who particularly esteemed emeralds. It was valued at 50,000 francs and sold to M. Bachruch for 45,900 francs." The diadem was willed to the Louvre in 2002.
All carat weights are in old, non-metric carats
1.) Two round hairpins with 324 brilliants weighing 150 carats. Circular in shape and the surface completely covered with brilliants. Designed by Alfred Bapst in May of 1863. Estimated value 35,000 francs. Sold to M. Doutrelon for 40,000 francs.
2.) Two great shoulder knots set with 1,341 brilliants weighing 282.31 carats. The inspiration for the design was taken from the period of Marie Antoinette. Each consisted of five rows of brilliants with the middle enriched with large round stones mounted in claws. Designed by Alfred Bapst in December, 1863 for the court mantle of Empress Eugénie. Estimated value 78,600 francs. Sold to M. Doutrelon for 84,000 francs.
3.) Seven aiguillettes set with 222 brilliants weighing 215.78 carats hanging from a foundation ornament set with 59 brilliants weighing 18.56 carats and 8 rose cut diamonds. Estimated value 15,000 francs. Sold to M. Bonynge for 25,100 francs. There was keen competition for this item. According to Arthur Bloche (in his book "La Vente des Diamantes de la Couronne") it was bought on behalf of Queen Victoria.
4.) Three ornaments in the form of wild roses set with 522 brilliants weighing 129.69 carats and 133 rose cut diamonds. The first flower has its center a brilliant of 6 carats, surrounded by 158 brilliants. The second had a central stone of 5 carats with 166 other brilliants. The third had a central stone of 3 carats set amidst 176 brilliants. Designed by Alfred Bapst in April of 1867 and worn by the Empress Eugénie as hair ornaments. Estimated value 50,000 francs. Sold to Mm. Rouvenant and Depres for 44,100 francs.
5.) A bow with two tassels set with 2,428 brilliants weighing 136.75 carats and 196 rose-cut diamonds. Executed by the House of Kramer in the reign of Napoleon III. the design was inspired by the style of Marie Antoinette. Estimated value 35,000 francs. Sold to M. Emile Schlessinger for 42,200 francs. The piece is still in existence today.
6.) A setting in which was a brilliant solitaire of 9 carats. It was sometimes ysed as the centerpiece of the garland of currant leaves. Valued at 15,000 francs. Sold to M. Doutrelon for 16,100 francs.
7.) A crescent set with 89 brilliants weighing 40.69 carats. Designed by Alfred Bapst in March, 1860 and made specially for a costume of Diana worn by the Empress Eugénie. Valued at 18,000 francs. Sold to M. Emile Schlessinger for 21,400 francs.
8.) A pendant described as a hair ornament but more probably a corsage brooch. It was set with 477 brilliants weigning 65.69 carats and 100 rose-cut diamonds. Made by the House of Kramer in the reign of Napoleon III. Estimated value 15,000 francs. Sold to M. Doutrelon for 17,000 francs.
9.) Seven stars set with 215 brilliants weigning 49.81 carats and 25 rose-cut diamonds. Made by the firm of Bapst & Nephew during the reign of Napoleon III. The first lot of two stars estimated at 6,000 francs, sold to M. Bleville for 8,300 francs. The second lot of two stars valued at 6,000 francs, sold to M. Aucoc for 8,300 francs. The third lot of one star valued at 3,600 francs sold to Mm. Irmaos and Levy for 5,600 francs. The fourth lot of two stars valued at 6,000 francs sold to Mm. Rouvenot and Depres for 10,600 francs. Total realized 32,800 francs against a valuation of 21,000 francs.
10.) A collar formed of four necklaces with a total of 222 brilliants weighing 363 carats. The first row contained 33 brilliants weighing 55.50 carats; was valued at 30,000 francs and sold for 28,300 francs. The second row contained 45 brilliants weighing 64.50 carats; was valued at 40,000 francs and sold for 36,500 francs. The third row contained 57 brilliants weighing 96.50 carats; was valued at 55,000 francs and sold for 62,500 francs. The fourth row contained 79 brilliants weighing 127.50 carats; was estimated at 55,000 francs and sold for 62,500 francs. The clasp contained 8 brilliants weighing 9 carats, which were valued at 4,500 francs and sold for 8,000 francs. The purchaser in each was M. Tiffany.
11.) A garland of current leaves in sixteen parts each with a brooch and three pendants or aiguilettes. A total of 2,314 brilliants weighing 517.19 carats and 353 rose cuts were used. It was executed in June, 1856 by Bapst & Nephew, to the designs of M. Devin, Inspector of the Crown Jewels, and was much favored by the Empress Eugénie. At the sale the garland was dismantled into 8 lots.
Lot 1. One part valued at 28,000 francs sold to M.J. & M.P. Bapst & Sons for 40,000 francs.
Lot 2. One part valued at 28,000 francs sold to M. Pickard for 53,000 francs.
Lot 3. One part valued at 25,000 francs sold to M. Bachruch for 24,600 francs.
Lot 4. One part valued at 25,000 francs sold to M.E. Robert for 23,100 francs.
Lot 5. Two parts valued at 20,000 francs sold to Messrs Garrard for 26,800 francs.
Lot 6. Two parts valued at 14,000 francs sold to M. Tiffany for 23,200 francs.
Lot 7. Two parts valued at 16,400 francs sold to M. Tiffany for 16,400 francs.
Lot 8. Six parts valued at 35,000 francs sold to M.E. Robert for 34,500 francs.
12.) A piece of a jewel in the form of a small flower belonging to the corsage catalogued under No. 8 composed of 58 brilliants valued at 2,500 francs and sold to M. Van Cleef for 2,l00 francs.
13.) A parcel of brilliants taken from various orders and decorations. One lot containing 14 brilliants weighing a total of 34.12 carats valued at 11,600 francs and sold to Madame Chauvet for 18,600 francs. A second lot of 80 brilliants valued at 18,000 francs sold to M. Osiris for 18,200 francs.
14.) A parcel of brilliants from various orders and decorations. One lot containing small brilliants and rose-colored diamonds weighing 40 carats and valued at 5,000 francs sold to M. Lepée-Esmelin for 6,200 francs. A second lot of brilliants (melee) weighing 100 carats valued at 20,000 francs and sold to Mr. Welby for 15,000 francs.
15.) Six brilliants called briolettes in two lots. The first lot is one stone weighing 8 carats valued at 12,000 francs sold to M. Tiffany for 24,500 francs. The second lot of five stones weighing 10 carats valued at 8,000 francs sold to M. Rosenau for 17,700 francs.
16.) A parcel of small rose-cut diamonds weighing 40 carats and valued at 4,000 francs and sold to M. Aucoc for 6,800 francs.
17.) A parcel of small brilliants weighing 83.03 carats valued at 10,000 francs sold to Mm. Filard & Pelletier for 12,900 francs.
18.) A great opal surrounded by brilliants. It could be used on a brooch or on an agraffe and on occasion was suspended to the Order of the Golden Fleece. Valued at 25,000 francs. Sold to the Baron de Horn for 23,000 francs.
19.) A sapphire weighing 10 carats and other colored stones valued at 3,000 francs sold to Madame Asselin for 4,600 francs.
20.) Eight round pearls weighing 128 grains valued at 8,500 francs sold to the Countess of Bari, Princess of Bourbon, for 8,300 francs.
21.) A lot of brilliants taken from various orders and decorations weighing a total of 154 carats valued at 23,000 francs. Sold to M.J. & P. Bapst & Son for 26,300 francs.
22.) A lot of brilliants taken from various orders and decorations weighing 218.50 carats and valued at 24,000 francs. Sold to M. Peczenick for 30,700 francs.
23.) A lot of brilliants taken from the various decorations weighing 17.50 carats valued at 1,200 francs and sold to M. Noury for 2,300 francs.
24.) A brilliant with a flat side called a "portrait" weighing 6 carats valued at 3,200 francs and sold to Baron de Horn for 11,800 francs.
25.) Bouquet for the corsage in the form of a diamond brooch. This light and elegant ornament in the form of a bouquet of flowers and leaves with a knot of ribbons composed of 2,637 brilliants weighing 132.31 carats and 860 rose cut diamonds. It was valued at 35,000 francs. It was designed by M.E. Bapst for the Duchess of Berry and sold to M. Becoulet for 41,100 francs.
26.) Six brilliants divided into three lots. The first lot of 1 brilliant of 7.91 carats and 1 brilliant of 6.03 carats was valued at 10,000 francs and sold to M. Boin-Taburet
27.) A diadem of emeralds and brilliants. In all 1,031 brilliants weighing 176 carats and 46 emeralds weighing 77 carats were employed. It was made by Frederic Bapst & Brothers in July of 1820 and had been worn successively by the Royal Princess and finally by the Empress Eugénie who particularly esteemed emeralds. It was valued at 50,000 francs and sold to M. Bachruch for 45,900 francs. [see the emerald and diamond tiara above.]
28.) A chain of thirty-two rectangular pieces linked together by circular links. Altogether 833 brilliants weighing 621.59 carats were employed. It was designed by Alfred Bapst in December, 1867 to support the two anchors of diamonds worn by the Empress Eugénie at the ball given by the Minister of Marine. It was sold in four lots each consisting of eight links. Each lot was valued at 50,000 francs and the first two were sold to M. Doutrelon for 45,500 francs each, the third to M. Peczenick for 45,200 francs and the fourth to M. Friedlander for 45,400 francs.
29.) A buckle for a girdle in the for of a sun or a great rose window from which hung nine aiguilettes. In the center was a brilliant of 25 carats and 295 brilliants weighing 146 carats were employed. It was designed by Alfred Bapst in 1867 and valued at 140,000 francs. 30.) Two fillets, one for the brow and one for the hair, set with 27 brilliants weighing 101 carats and 41 brilliants weighing 124 carats respectively. They were made in 1867 by Bapst & Nephew. The first was estimated at 80,000 francs and was bought by M. Vever for 102,500 francs, the second also valued at 80,000 francs was bought by Mm. Alphonse & Louis Ochs for 83,500 francs.