Jewels That Outlived An Empire
The Marie-Louise Diadem was literally the crown jewel of a full parure that included the diadem itself, comb, necklace and matching earrings. The set was commissioned by Napoleon I and made by jeweller Etienne Nitot et Fils in 1810 for his second wife, Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria (1791-1847). The entire suite of jewelry was created from emeralds and diamonds set in both silver and gold. The elaborate diadem included 79 emeralds and more than 1,000 diamonds totaling around 700 in carat weight.
The complete parure has since been scattered over the many years it has been in existence. Not uncommon for historical pieces the diadem has also gone through some alterations of its own. The Empress Marie-Louise left France after the fall of Napoleon's empire with the entire parure in tact and left it with close relatives at the time of her death. There has been some debate as to which relative was the lucky recipient. According to the Smithsonian, her aunt Archduchess Elise, or her cousin Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, according to the Louvre.
It remained in the family until 1953 when a descendent sold it to Van Cleef & Arpels. Looking to maximize their investment they removed all of the emeralds to be integrated into other pieces of jewelry to be sold under their new historical collection. The launch was accompanied by an advertising campaign touting “An emerald for you from the historic Napoleonic Tiara.” Additionally the luxury jeweller replaced all of the emeralds with turquoise to finalize the tiara's transformation as it appears today. The full parure minus the comb which was dismantled at some point is on display at the Louvre.