During a recent visit to Washington, DC, my partner insisted that we visited the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the one I usually associate with 5 year-olds due to the dinosaur skeletons. Little did I know that I was in for a treat.
The museum was featuring the exhibition “Treasures from the National Gem Collection” and the pieces in archive were simply wonderful. They have the necklace that Napoleon gifted to Marie Louise, a pair of earrings that belonged to Marie Antoinette, the famed Inquisition necklace, and the Hope Diamond.
Below, the highlights of the exhibition and some memories of this unforgettable surprise. Just too bad my visit was accompanied by the “Countess” Luann de Lesseps’ “Money Can’t Buy You Class” leaking out of someone’s headphones (for the record, no “Countess”, it can’t):
The Hope Diamond
One of the world’s most famous gems – renowned for its nearly flawless clarity, rare deep blue color, and eventful history. In 1668, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French gem merchant, sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France. During the French Revolution it was stolen, and did not reappear until 1812 in London. Evidence suggests that King George IV of England purchased the recut diamond in 1820. Sometime after George IV’s death in 1830, the diamond was purchased by Henry Philip Hope, whose name it bears today. After Hope’s death in 1839, the diamond was left to his family. In 1901, after undergoing many more ownership changes, the diamond was sold to a series of merchants, including Pierre Cartier, who designed the current setting. In 1912, Cartier sold the Hope Diamond to Evalyn Walsh McLean, a Washington, D.C. socialite. Finally, in 1949 Harry Winston purchased the diamond, including it in his Court of Jewels collection, which toured the world for charity. In 1958, Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remains today. The Hope Diamond is currently in a platinum setting, surrounded by sixteen white pear-shaped and cushion-cut diamonds, suspended from a chain containing forty-five diamonds – the original design by Pierre Cartier around 1910.
This Art Deco platinum and enamel bracelet contains 626 diamonds, 73 emeralds, 48 sapphires, and 20 rubies. The bracelet was made by French jeweler, Geoffroy et Eisenmann, in Paris during the 1920s:
Diamond and Enamel Bracelet
A beautiful diamond bracelet from the Art Deco design period (1925-1939), designed by Tiffany & Co. The platinum bracelet has a flexible band set with square-cut and round-cut diamonds, totaling approximately 9.85 carats. The square-cut diamonds are flanked by black enamel bands:
Diamond and Ruby Bracelet
A beautiful diamond and ruby Art Deco bracelet, designed by Tiffany & Co. This platinum bracelet has four rectangular panels set with round-cut and square-cut diamonds, totaling approximately 13.50 carats and is accented with French-cut rubies totaling approximately 11 carats:
From the Art Deco design period, this all-diamond bracelet was designed by the French firm, Lacloche. This platinum bracelet has 3 rectangular panels set with square-cut, baguette-cut, marquise-cut, and round-brilliant cut diamonds, totaling approximately 14.30 carats:
Hazen Diamond Necklace
The Hazen Diamond Necklace was designed by Harry Winston. It is made of platinum and contains 325 diamonds that have a total weight of approximately 131.4 carats.
Hall Sapphire and Diamond Necklace
The Hall sapphire and diamond necklace, designed by Harry Winston, features 36 matched sapphires from Sri Lanka, totaling 195 carats. Their soft sky blue color is accented by 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 83.75 carats.
The Spanish Inquisition Necklace consists of two strands of antique-cut diamonds and emeralds to which a lower pendant and upper chain containing modern, brilliant-cut diamonds were added. The necklace contains 374 diamonds and 15 emeralds. The emeralds undoubtedly came from Colombia, while the diamonds were obtained from India, the only source of diamonds until 1723. The large, central, barrel-shaped emerald weighs approximately 45 carats. Due to its rich color and exceptional clarity, it is one of the world’s finest emeralds. Although the origin of the necklace’s name is unknown, it was probably created this century in reference to its similarity to other jewelry of the period. However, according to legend, at least a portion or a variation of the necklace belonged to Spanish royalty and was later worn by ladies of the French court. The necklace was purchased by the Maharaja of Idore in the early twentieth century. In 1948, Harry Winston purchased the necklace from the Maharaja’s son. The necklace then became part of Winston’s “Court of Jewels” traveling exhibition. Cora Hubbard Williams of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania bought the necklace from Winston in 1955 and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1972.
Designed by Cartier in the late 1980s, this stunning necklace has 50 starburst-cut fancy yellow diamonds set in yellow gold that range in size from 1.0-20 carats and total approximately 245 carats. A hooker never owned it: the name comes from the owner, Mrs. Janet Annenberg Hooker, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1994.
Marie Louise Diadem
The Marie-Louise Diadem was most likely 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, made by French jeweler Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris. Empress Marie-Louise bequeathed 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, along with a document attesting to their provenance. 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 to replace the original emeralds in 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 old mine cut diamonds weighing a total of 700 carats and 79 Persian turquoise stones weighing a total of 540 carats:
Napoleon Diamond Necklace
The Napoleon necklace was a gift from Emperor Napoleon I to his second wife, Marie-Louise to celebrate the birth of their son, Napoleon II, the Emperor of Rome, in 1811. The silver and gold set necklace, designed by Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris was completed in 1811 and consists of 234 diamonds: 28 oval and cushion-cut diamonds, suspending a fringe of 19 briolette-cut oval and pear shaped diamonds and accented by small, round diamonds and diamond set motifs. The diamonds are cut in the “old mine” style, the precursor to the modern brilliant cut, resulting in great dispersion (flashes of color as the stone moves in light), but less brilliance due to less light refraction through the top of the stone. The necklace has an estimated total weight of 263 carats, the largest single diamond weighing approximately 10.4 carats. When Marie-Louise died in 1847, the necklace was given to her sister-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, who removed two stones to shorten the necklace. Earrings were made with the two removed stones, the whereabouts of which are unknown. In 1872, the necklace was bequeathed to the Archduchess’ son, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria. In 1948, Archduke Ludwig’s grandson, Prince Franz Joseph of Liechtenstein, sold the necklace to a French collector who then sold it to Harry Winston in 1960. Marjorie Merriweather Post obtained the necklace from Winston and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962:
Marie Antoinette Diamond Earrings
These two large, pear-shaped diamonds weigh 14.25 and 20.34 carats respectively. They once were supposedly set in earrings that belonged to Marie Antoinette. The diamonds were later acquired by the Grand Duchess Tatiana Yousupoff of Russia. When jeweler Pierre Cartier puchased the diamond earrings in 1928, their authenticity was attested to in an affidavit by Russian Princess Zenaide Yousupoff and her son, Prince Felix Yousupoff, stating that they originally belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette and have never been reset in the one hundred years that they were in the family. Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired the earrings from Pierre Cartier in October 1928. Harry Winston reset the large diamonds in platinum replicas of the “original” silver settings in 1959. Cartier designed the triangular tops. In November 1964, Mrs. Post’s daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Barzin, donated the earrings, along with the original settings to the Smithsonian Institution. The diamonds are originally from India or Brazil, the only significant sources of diamonds in the eighteenth century:
The William Sherman Diamond is one of five pendants from a diamond necklace. The necklace was a gift from the khedive of Egypt to Civil War General William Sherman for his daughter’s wedding in 1865. The necklace was subsequently divided among his three daughters. The pendant has an 8.52-carat pear shaped diamond surrounded by 17 round diamonds, graduating in size. It was donated to the Smithsonian Institution by Cecilia McCallum Bolin in memory of her mother, Mary Sherman McCallum:
Victoria-Transvaal Diamond Necklace
The Victoria-Transvaal Diamond was cut from a 240-carat rough stone found at the Premier Mine in Transvaal, South Africa, in 1951. The fancy “champagne-colored” diamond was originally cut to 75 carats but then later recut to 67.89 carats for better proportions. The Victoria-Transvaal Diamond is a pear-shaped brilliant cut and has 116 facets. The yellow gold necklace was designed by Baumgold Brothers, Inc., and consists of 66 round brilliant cut diamonds, fringed with 10 drop motifs, each set with 2 marquise-cut diamonds, a pear-shaped diamond, and a small round brilliant cut diamond. Total weight of the 106 diamonds in the necklace is approximately 45 carats. The Victoria-Transvaal diamond was worn in the 1952 movie “Tarzan’s Savage Fury.”
The stunning Mackay Emerald was mined in Muzo, Colombia. The largest cut emerald in the National Gem Collection, it is set in a pendant of diamonds and platinum and was designed by Cartier. The art deco style necklace was a wedding gift in 1931 from Clarence Mackay to his wife Anna Case Mackay, who was a prima donna at the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1909 to 1920. The emerald weighs 167.97 carats and is set in platinum with 35 emeralds and 2,191 colorless brilliant and step cut diamonds.
Tiffany Diamond “Bird on a Rock” Brooch
This fancy yellow diamond helped earn a 19th-century jeweler, Charles Lewis Tiffany, the nickname “King of Diamonds.” Tiffany acquired the South African diamond in 1878 for $18,000. A famous gemologist of the era, George Frederick Kunz, supervised its cutting—a task that took nearly a year.
Today, the Tiffany Diamond is the icon of Tiffany & Co., where it has been on view for nearly 70 years. Tiffany designer Jean Schlumberger designed three jeweled settings for the Tiffany Diamond in 1956. The current setting “Bird on a Rock” was mounted in 1995. This is the first time the Tiffany Diamond has been shown at a U.S. museum outside of New York.
Conchita Butterfly Brooch
This spectacular butterfly brooch highlights the amazing color range of natural sapphires from Montana. The 18k yellow gold butterfly is set with 331 round brilliant-cut sapphires and 2 cabochon cut sapphires, totaling 27.97 carats. The exquisitely crafted piece is extremely versatile and can be worn as a brooch, pendant, or clasp. Most of these fancy-colored sapphires are from the famed Rock Creek deposit, located in the Sapphire Mountains near historic Philipsburg, Montana. More popularly known as Gem Mountain, gold miners discovered sapphires here in the late 1890’s. Over a period of 110 years, several hundred million carats of gem-quality sapphires were produced from this site that noted gemologists and journalists describe as the “Rainbow Over Montana.” The Montana Sapphire Butterfly, a collaboration by jewelry designer Paula Crevoshay and gem dealer Robert Kane, was given by them to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gem Collection in 2007.
Petersen Tanzanite Brooch
This magnificent pair of matched tanzanite gems weighs approximately 30 carats, and they exhibit beautifully the highly-prized intense sapphire-blue color with modifying highlights of violet. The floral platinum brooch, designed by Harry Winston in 1991, has approximately 24 carats of diamonds. The tanzanite “flowers” can be detached and worn as earrings. The Petersen Tanzanite Brooch was gifted to the National Gem Collection in 2002.
South Sea Cultured Pearl Ring
This one-of-a-kind piece showcases a rare and beautiful 11.4mm golden South Sea cultured pearl. The ring, designed by David M. Trout, won First Place in the Men’s Wear Division of the 2004 Spectrum Awards, an international design competition sponsored by the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA). The 18k yellow gold and platinum ring has a strong Asian influence that is seen in the pagoda-like styling and intricate bead setting that accent the multiple layers. The ring has 1.50 carats of D-F color, VS clarity, well-cut diamonds.