Christie’s is a British auction house founded in 1766. It was born, therefore, three years before Napoleon, who came into the world in 1769 and died in Sant’Elena on May 5, 1821, 200 years ago. The anniversary also finds a sort of celebration in the world of jewelry, with the sale of the spectacular sapphire and diamond set that belonged to the adopted daughter of the French emperor and general, Stephanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden (1789-1860). The set will be among the attractions of the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction, scheduled in Geneva on 12 May.
It consists of nine pieces, including a tiara, a necklace, a pair of earrings, two pendants and brooches, as well as a ring and a bracelet, offered as individual lots. A total of 38 sapphires from Ceylon were used to create this set in the early 1800s. The collection also includes the important sapphire crown of Mary II, Queen of Portugal, set with an extraordinary Burmese sapphire in the center.
The reconstruction history recalls that Napoleon I in 1796 married Josephine de Beauharnais, Stephanie’s aunt, born on August 28, 1789. Her mother died two years later and Stephanie spent her first years with the nuns in the French countryside. Soon after her aunt’s marriage to Napoleon I, she joined them and grew up in Versailles and Paris. A month before her marriage she was adopted by Napoleon and she became the imperial highness of her princess Stephanie Napoléon and she was then able to marry on 6 April 1806 with Prince Charles of Baden. Together they had five children: two boys, who died at an early age, and three daughters.
A record in writing, found between the boxes of jewels, stated that these sapphire jewels were given to Stephanie by her cousin Hortense de Beauharnais. Such an origin is very likely. In many paintings Hortense, and her mother Empress Josephine, can be seen wearing precious belts. Furthermore, Hortense’s financial papers, which are kept in the Napoléon archive in Paris, give evidence of her fortune between 1817 and 1837, the year she passed away. They show that she left Paris in 1816 with little money, but a lot of jewellery.
After Stephanie’s death in 1860 the sapphire parure described as ‘necklace, pendant, earrings, 7 pins and a belt’ was inherited by Stephanie’s second daughter, Josephine, Princess of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen. Under Napoléon’s court, belts decorated with precious stones were part of any jewellery parure, as fashion dictated that the waist was very high on dresses and court ladies needed a belt which was placed just under the décolleté.
It seems the belt was remodelled into a bandeau-tiara and a bracelet by Princess Josephine, who died in 1900, aged 83. In her will, she left the sapphires (necklace, bandeau-tiara, earrings, pendants and bracelet) to her eldest son, Léopold (1835-1905). At this point, Stephanie’s sapphire parure was joined by another spectacular sapphire jewel: a crown with detachable brooches from Queen Maria da Gloria of Portugal (1819-1853).
Maria was born in 1819 in Rio, where her family, the Braganza dynasty, took refuge when Napoléon I invaded their kingdom of Portugal. Her father Pedro, King of Portugal and 1st Emperor of Brazil, abdicated the crown of Portugal in her favour in 1826. Therewith, Maria da Gloria became Queen of Portugal at the age of seven. She died in 1853 after having given birth to 11 children. Her seventh child Infanta Antonia (1845-1913) married Léopold, Prince of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen in 1861, and it is believed that their union united the two sapphire parures.