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The Napoleon Series > Research > Miscellaneous Topics


The Theft of the Royal Crown Jewels: 1792

Napoleonic Crown Jewels: 1804-1811

Mixed Fortunes: 1812-1848

The Second Empire: 1852-1870

The Crown Jewels are Sold: 1887

Suspicions Proven: 2005

Whats Left and Where




Frances Royal and Imperial Crown Jewels: 1792-2005

By Stephen Millar


The King left Frismes on 9 June to go to the City of Reims, and He arrived there in a ceremonial coach, accompanied by Monsieur, Monseigneur the Count of Artois, the Duke of Orleans, the Duke of Chartres, and the Prince of Conde. After the Duke of Bourbon, Governor of Champagne, gave him the keys of the city, the King entered Reims escorted by the troops of the royal household and made his way through a People intoxicated with joy which did not decrease but rather intensified as the procession moved along. His Majesty entered the metropolitan church, where he was greeted by the Archbishop-Duke of Reims who was at the head of his Chapter and listened to the Te Deum. After the Benediction, the King withdrew to the archbishop's palace where all the Nobles complimented Him. The next day, the King listened to the first Vespers in the Cathedral, and on Sunday, June 11th, around seven o'clock, His Majesty with the greatest pomp went back to the same Church and was crowned in the usual ways.

Gazette de France, 16 June 1775

Un superbe diamant brilliant blanc, forme carree, les coins arrondis, ayant une petite glace dans le filetis, et une autre a un coin dans le dessous: pesant 136 14/16 karats, estime douze millions livres."

the Regent Diamonds description in a 1791 inventory of the Crown Jewels

Each one of Europes Crown Jewels has a fascinating history. The creation of and sometimes the dispersal of these regal gemstone collections make for compelling reading: the travels of gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (who, legend says, plucked Louis XIVs French Blue diamond from an idols eye in India); the attempted theft of the British Crown Jewels on 9 May 1671 by Colonel Thomas Blood; the disappearance of the Hapsburg-owned 137-carat Florentine diamond after the First World War.

The modern story of the French Royal (and Imperial) Crown Jewels spans just over two centuries, starting from the French Revolution in 1789. The State and coronation regalia had been last used on 11 June 1775 at the coronation of Louis XVI; after the downfall of the monarchy the Crown Jewels had been placed on public display at the Garde Meuble (the Public Treasury) [1]. In early September 1792, in response to increasing violence in Paris, the building was closed to the public.

The Theft of the Royal Crown Jewels: 1792

On the morning of 17 September 1792, three commisioners at the Garde Meuble discovered a robbery had taken place there the previous night. Thieves had climbed up the buildings colonnade facing the Place Louis XV and gained access through a window. Once inside, they had broken the seals on eleven cabinets containing the Royal Crown Jewels, as well as the State and coronation regalia.

The State and coronation regalia was, from a historical point of view, priceless: the Charlemagne crown; Louis XVs 1722 coronation crown; the 60-cm medieval gold sceptre of Charles V; the ivory-hand-topped gold sceptre called le main de justice; the Ampulla; the coronation sword (Joyeuse) [2]. Other items orbs, onyx chalices and assorted historic relics were almost as valuable.

Stored with the regalia was a jewel-thiefs dream: the enormous collection of gemstones gathered over decades by the Kings of France. A 1791 inventory commissioned by the National Assembly listed 9,547 diamonds worth 21-million francs. Among these diamonds were the Regent (a 140.5-carat brilliant-cut white diamond sold in 1717 to Philippe, duc dOrleans valued at 12-million francs), the French Blue (a heart-shaped blue 67-carat diamond cut in 1673 for Louis XIV), the Sancy (a pale-yellow 55-carat diamond sold around 1695 to Louis XIV valued at 1-million francs) and the Hortensia (a pale orange-pink 20-carat diamond which later got its name from Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland and daughter of Empress Josephine). Also included in the collection was the Ruspoli Sapphire a 135-carat lozenge-shaped sapphire bought by Louis XIV.

The commissioners discovered the primary gems (the Regent, French Blue and Sancy diamonds) were missing; the less-valuable Hortensia was stolen as well [3]. Also gone were a number of lesser diamonds and some easily-transportable pieces from the State regalia [4].

Modern sources conflict, but it appears six men participated in the robbery, including a man called Guillot (police officals suspected one or more of the commissioners were in on the conspiracy as well). According to some accounts, Guillot took the French Blue to London, where he tried to sell it in 1796 to cover his debts. Guillot ended up in prison and the diamond disappeared.

The Regent and the Hortensia were recovered in 1793 from an attic in Paris (a condemed man named Depeyron apparently told police he had hidden a bag containing the gems and some gold in a house in the Halles district). No trace of the Sancy was discovered.

Napoleonic Crown Jewels: 1804-1811

Napoleon I had two coronations in 1804: the first on 26 May in Milan (as King of Italy); another on 2 December in Paris (as Emperor of the French). In Milan, he used the medieval Iron Crown of Lombardy which had been previously used to crown the Holy Roman Emperors. This small, ancient crown still survives and is kept in Monza Cathedral in Italy.

For his coronation in Paris, Napoleon used a mixture of specially-commissioned pieces in addition to items from the former Royal Crown Jewels. Two new crowns one medieval-style (made by famed goldsmith Biennais) and one Roman-style (composed of laurel-leaves) were manufactured along with a diamond tiara for Empress Josephine, a Chain of the Legion dHonneur, an orb and a ring. The Regent (placed in the hilt of Napoleons coronation sword) and le main de justice were used from the ex-Royal collection. It is not clear if Napoleon used the Charles Vs sceptre (Francois Gerards painting of the Emperor in coronation robes show him holding an imperial-eagle sceptre and le main de justice).

After Napoleon married his second wife, the Archduchess Marie-Louise, two new matching sets of jewelry (called parures) entered the Imperial collection. On 16 January 1811, jeweller Francois-Regnault Nitot delivered to the Emperor a diamond-ruby parure (coronet, tiara, necklace, comb, earrings, belt and a pair of bracelets) and a similar emerald-diamond parure.

After the end of the First Empire, the ruby set was altered for Louis XVIII by jewellers Paul-Nicolas Meniere and Evrard Bapst (1816) and by Bapst again nine years later. By 1830, the parure contained a diadem, coronet, a large and small necklace, belt, a pair of bracelets, earrings, a pendant, 14 corsage studs, a rosette-shaped fastener and two accessories (it was later used by Empress Eugenie during the Second Empire).

Mixed Fortunes: 1812-1848

In 1812, two days after the statute of limitations for recovering stolen property had expired, London jeweler John Francillon sold a 45.5-carat blue diamond to diamond merchant Daniel Eliason. It was suspected at the time the new stone was the stolen and re-cut French Blue [see below], but Francillon had documents to prove he was legally its owner. It is unclear from whom Francillon purchased the gem.

The diamond was subsequently purchased by King George IV around 1820, was privately sold a few years later the stone received its new name from Henry Phillip Hope in this period and then had a series of British and American owners. Harry Winston Inc. of New York (the company that bought the Hope diamond in 1949) donated it to the Smithsonian Museum in 1958.

After Napoleons abdication in 1814, Marie-Louise took the Regent back with her when she returned to Vienna. Her father, Emperor Francis I of Austria, later returned it to France.

In 1828, the Sancy finally turned up and was sold by a French jeweler to Prince Anatole Demidoff, a Russian aristocrat. It was renamed the Demidoff and was given to his wife, Princess Mathilde [see note 7]. In 1906, the Astor family purchased the Sancy; in 1978, Viscount Astor sold it to the Louvre for a reported $1-million.

Some sources say that several small pieces were stolen from the crown jewels in 1848, when they were being moved to another location.

The Second Empire: 1852-1870

The majority of new pieces added to the Imperial collection during the Second Empire were those commissioned for Empress Eugenie. Although Emperor Napoleon III decided against having a coronation in 1852 and thus no new crown was required jeweler Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier (1808-1884) was commissioned to make two new pieces for his wife: a diamond and pearl tiara (1853) and a crown (1855). The Regent diamond was also placed in one of Eugenies new diadems.

Eugenie amassed a large collection of jewellery, including pearls purchased during the First Empire for Napoleon Is first and second wives; La Regente, a large oval pearl, had been bought in 1811 for Marie-Louise [5].

The Crown Jewels are Sold: 1887

In May 1887, the French government of President Jules Grevy (15.08.1813-09.09.1891) took an unprecedented step: the Finance Ministry was directed to organize an auction to sell most of the former Crown Jewels. Fearing attempts by either Royalists or Bonapartists to restore the monarchy, the National Assembly had decided to sell the Crown Jewels before anyone could use them [6].

Everything was to be sold, except for a few stripped-down items of historical interest to be exhibited at the Louvre: the crowns of Louis XV and Napoleon (the crowns gemstones were removed and replaced by colored glass); some of the surviving Royal and Imperial coronation regalia; the Regent diamond.

It was an auction that attracted international interest. Sixty-nine lots were offered for sale (as an example, Lot 8 was a 477-diamond hair pendant [about 67 carats] made by Bapst in the early 1860s). Tiffanys and Company of New York bought 24 lots (including one of Eugenies diamond necklaces and diamond comb); their competitor Van Cleef and Arpels bought Josephines diamond tiara); Peter Carl Faberge successfully bid for La Regente [7].

Suspicions Proven: 2005

Ever since the Hope surfaced in London in 1812, jewelers and historians have speculated the gem was Louis XIVs French Blue diamond re-cut to a smaller size. There is no reliable information about the gem from 1792-1812; the best guess is that it was taken to England (perhaps by Guillot) after the Garde Meuble robbery, re-cut by a less-than-scrupulous business to facilitate its future sale and then quietly stored until the French statute of limitations expired.

On 2 February 2005, Associated Press ran an article entitled Hope Diamond Traced to French Crown, which proved the French origin of the Smithsonians blue diamond. Researchers using computer analysis have traced the origin of the famed Hope Diamond, concluding that it was cut from a larger stone that was once part of the crown jewels of France, the story said. A French connection had been suspected for the Hope, but the new study shows just how it would have fit inside the larger French Blue Diamond and how that gem was cut, Smithsonian gem curator Jeffrey Post explained.

Whats Left and Where

Some remnants of the crown jewels are on display in Paris in the Galerie dApollon of the Louvre museum. These pieces include Louis XVs and Napoleons coronation crowns, Eugenies 1853 tiara and 1855 crown and a diamond and sapphire parure worn by Marie-Amelie (26.04.1782-24.03.1866), wife of Louis-Philippe. Also on display are the Regent, Sancy and Hortensia diamonds. [8]

In 2002, the Louvre purchased a diamond and emerald tiara (made in 1819-20 by Christophe-Frederic Bapst) for Marie-Therese-Charlotte, duchesse dAngouleme (1778-1851), the only child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to survive the Revolution; two years later, the museum paid 3.7-million euros to acquire the necklace and two earrings of Marie-Louises 1811 emerald parure.

The Smithsonians National Museum of Natural History also has several examples from the French crown jewels: the tiara of Marie-Louises emerald parure (the original 79 emeralds were replaced by turquoise after the 1887 auction), the Hope diamond (the re-cut French Blue), another Marie-Louise diamond necklace and a pair of Marie-Antoinette diamond earrings.

The Ruspoli Sapphire which probably survived the previous 200 years intact due to its plain, cubic shape is located in the Paris Museum of Natural History.


[1] The State regalia would be used for the last time by Charles X on 28 May 1825 (Louis XVIII, Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III all decided against having an offical coronation).

[2] Until the coronation of Louis XV in 1722, French kings had used a simple, unadorned crown the medieval crown of Charlemagne (it was last used by King Louis XIV at his coronation in Rheims Cathedral in 1654). Before his coronation, Louis XV commissioned jewellers Laurent Ronde and Augustin Duflos to create a new gem-encrusted crown made with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires from the Crown Jewels (including the 140.5-carat Regent diamond).

[3] The Hotensia was stolen again in 1830 from the Ministry of Marine.

[4] Some sources state a 24-carat orange diamond called the Peach Blossom was also stolen, but it is likely this diamond is the Hortensia diamond.

[5] Empress Eugenies also gave some of her pearls to a friend (who donated them to the University of Pennsylvania). Other examples are on display at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City.

[6] The French Crown jewels were not the only Royal collection to be partially sold. In 1926-7, the Russian government sold about 70% of the former Imperial Crown Jewels to an American consortium; these gems were later auctioned by Christies in London.

[7] Prince Jeromes daughter Princess Mathilde (1820-1904) had another famous Second Empire jewelry collection, which was auctioned in Paris after her death. La Regente was sold by Christies in Geneva in 1988 for $859,100.

[8] The crown of Charlemagne was destroyed during the Revoution and Napoleons 1804 laurel-leaf crown was apparently broken-up in 1819.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2005


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