Marie Louis Diadem

There were a few benefits to marrying the Emperor Napoleon, if you loved jewelry, that is! The Marie-Louise diadem, now part of the Smithsonian Collection, was a wedding gift from Napoleon I to his second wife, Empress Marie-Louise in 1810. The diadem was originally part of a set that also included a necklace, comb, belt buckle, and earrings, all made of emeralds and diamonds set in silver and gold. They were all made by French Jeweler Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris.

In the original diadem, there were 22 large and 57 small emeralds, along with 1002 brilliant-cut and 66 rose-cut diamonds. The central emerald weighed 12 carats. After the fall of the Emperor, Marie-Louise fled to Vienna and took her personal jewelry with her, including the diadem and other pieces that were made as part of a set, including a necklace, a pair of earrings and a comb.

Empress Marie-Louise left the diadem to her Hapsburg aunt, Archduchess Elise. Archduke Karl Stefan Hapsburg of Sweden, a descendent of the Archduchess sold the set to Van Cleef & Arpels in 1953. Between May 1954 and June 1956, the emeralds were removed and sold individually in pieces of jewelry as emeralds "from the historic Napoleon Tiara."

Between 1956 and 1962, Van Cleef & Arpels mounted turquoise cabochons into the diadem. In 1962, the diadem was displayed in the Louvre in Paris with the necklace, earrings, and comb in an exhibit about Empress Marie-Louise. In 1971, Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, purchased the diadem for the Smithsonian Institution. There are 1,006 mine-cut diamonds weighing a total of 700 carats and 79 Persian turquoise stones weighing a total of 540 carats. In one respect, it’s a shame that the original piece was dismantled to sell off the emeralds. Yet the diadem, reset with the turquoise cabochons is equally beautiful and made even more distinctive with the use of the less valuable turquoise.

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