Napoléon Bonaparte presented the diamonds now known as the Napoleon
Necklace to his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria, Empress of France,
as a gift to celebrate the birth of their son, Napoléon François
Joseph Charles, the King of Rome (later the Duke of Reichstadt), in
The history of this jewel is well documented, and the brief summary
presented here is based on an account by Bratter (1971) and unpublished
research conducted in the National Archives of France by Marvin C.Ross.
Mr. Ross was employed by American socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post,
who donated the necklace to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962 (Post,1997),
and his notes are currently stored at the Hillwood Museum in Washington,
DC (with copies at the Smithsonian).
The necklace was assembled in Paris by the firm of Nitot and Sons. Jeweler
Ernst Paltscho (1811), who examined it at the time, estimated its value
at 376,275 French francs. This was an enormous sum of money, approximately
equal to the Empresss regular household budget for an entire year.
Several portraits were subsequently painted of Marie-Louise wearing
When Napoléon was exiled to Saint Helena in 1815, Marie-Louise
returned to Austria with her personal jewels, including the diamond
necklace. After her death in 1847, the necklace passed to her cousin,
Archduchess Sophie, who removed two diamonds from the necklace in order
to shorten it and put them into earrings (the current whereabouts of
these earrings is unknown).
Following the Archduchesss death in 1872, the necklace was inherited
by her three surviving sons, one of whom, Charles Louis, later acquired
the interests of his two brothers. Charles Louiss third wife,
Maria Theresa, inherited the Napoleon Necklace upon his death in 1914.
One of the more unusual episodes in the necklaces history took
place in 1929, when Archduchess Maria Theresa sent the jewel to the
United States to be sold.
The agents she chose represented themselves as Colonel Townsend,
who had allegedly
served in the British Secret Service, and his wife Princess Baronti,
a novelist (Nicolet, 1930; Bratter, 1971). These representations were
false, and in fact the couples true identities have never been
Maria Theresa was seeking $450,000 for the necklace, but after the stock
market crash in
October of that year, the Townsends realized that a sale for this sum
was impossible. They enlisted the assistance of Archduke Leopold of
Hapsburg, Maria Theresas grandnephew, to authenticate the necklace
to prospective buyers and to provide credibility to the story that it
was being offered at the bargain price of $100,000 because Maria Theresa
was desperately in need of money.
The Townsends negotiated deals to sell the necklace, first to New York
jeweler Harry Winston and then to one Harry Berenson of Boston, but
both backed out. David Michel, a New York diamond dealer, finally bought
it for $60,000.
The Townsends sent $7,270 to Maria Theresa and kept the balance of $52,730
to cover their expenses related to the sale, which included
a reported $20,000 for Leopold. Prior to the sale, however, Maria Theresa
had revoked the Townsends authority to sell the necklace and sent
an emissary to New York to retrieve the diamonds. The affair ultimately
went to the courts. In the end, the necklace was returned to Maria Theresa
and Leopold went to jail, while the Townsends fled the authorities and
dropped out of sight.
In 1948, the Hapsburg family sold the necklace to Paul-Louis Weiller,
a Paris industrialist and patron of the arts. Harry Winston acquired
the necklace in 1960 and sold it to Marjorie Merriweather Post. In 1962,
she gave the necklace in its original case (figure3) to the Smithsonian
Institution. The necklace is currently on exhibit in the Natural History
Museums National Gem and Mineral Collection Gallery.
The Napoleon Necklace contains 234 colorless to near-colorless diamonds
set in silver and gold (see pic); the diamonds total approximately 263
carats, with the largest stone weighing about 10.4 ct.
The piece consists of 28 old minecut diamonds, from which are
suspended a fringe of nine pendeloques (five pear shapessome with
rounded pointsalternating with four ovals) and 10 briolettes.
Above each pear shape is mounted a small brilliant, while the four
ovals are attached to motifs decorated with 23 smaller diamonds (figure
4, left). Each of the 10 briolette mountings is set with 12 rose-cut
diamonds (figure 4, right).
In his description of the necklace, Paltscho(1811) detailed each stone
by cut, weight, and price.
The origins of the diamonds were not noted, but in 1811 the only significant
diamond sources were
India and Brazil. Paltscho does not describe theFigure 1.
Composed of 234 diamonds weighing about 263 carats (width of the
necklace as shown is about 20 cm), and is currently on exhibit at the
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington.
The quality of the stones, and, as far as its known, they have never
been removed from their mountings.
GIA studied 101 of the 234 diamonds in the necklace: the 52 larger
diamonds (~2.510.4 ct) and a selection of the others.
They used a Meiji binocular microscope with attached polarizers to examine
surface and near-surface features.
Could not conduct a detailed study of the diamondsinteriors because
the stones could not be removed from the historic and fragile mounting.
The measured infrared spectra using a Bio-Rad Excalibur Series Fourier-transform
infrared spectrometer (4 cm1 resolution)fitted with a UMA-500
microscope. The microscope made it possible to direct the IR beam through
the table and large culet of the old minecut diamonds. We observed
the ultraviolet (UV) luminescence
of all 234 diamonds using a Super Bright longand short-wave UV lamp
(365 and 254 nm respectively).
UV luminescence descriptions for the 52 larger diamonds are given in
a table available in the G&G
Data Depository (www.gia.edu/gemsandgemology).
After almost two centuries, the necklace is in generally good condition.
Several solder joints have been repaired, and a few of the larger diamonds
show minor chips. There are obvious
crystalline inclusions in some of the diamonds; for the most part, these
appear to be sulfide crystals
with associated disc-shaped tension halos (Richardson et al., 2004).
Luminescence reactions of the 52 larger diamonds to UV radiation (figure
5) fell into three groups. The six diamonds in the first group were
inert to both long- and short-wave UV. The seven
diamonds in the second group displayed pinkish orange fluorescence that
was more intense to shortwave than long-wave. The strength of the shortwave
UV luminescence ranged from weak to strong, depending on the diamond.
No phosphorescence was observed from the diamonds in the second group.
The third and largest group (39 diamonds)Figure 2. exhibited blue fluorescence
that was stronger for long-wave (medium to very strong) than for shortwave
(very weak to strong) UV. Diamonds in this group that showed strong
fluorescence also exhibited strong whitish phosphorescence (again, see
the table in the G&G Data Depository for complete descriptions).
The diamond types of the 52 larger diamonds, as determined from the
IR spectra, are indicated in figure5.
Thirteen diamonds are type IIa (i.e., without nitrogen bands visible
in their IR spectra; Fritsch and
Scarratt, 1992); the remainder are type Ia diamonds with both A and
B nitrogen aggregates (IaAB). Thesetype Ia diamonds are similar to one
another in that all contain small-to-moderate amounts of hydrogen, showed
the Raman absorption line, and had (in most cases) high levels of platelets
(e.g., figure 6, left).
The absorption band at 1430 cm1, which is nitrogen Figure 5.
When the Napoleon Necklace is exposed to UV radiation (here, combined
long- and short-wave UV), a variety of responsespinkish orange,
blue, or inertcan be observed. The diamond types, as determined
by infrared spectroscopy, are labeled for the 52 larger stones;label
colors correspond to the type of fluorescence: pink for pinkish orange,
white for blue, and gray for inert.
At left is a detail of one of the necklaces four oval pendeloques
(1.5 cm; diamond no. 40 in the G&G Data Depository table), which
is set with 23 smaller
diamonds. The mountings for the briolettes (right, width 1 cm; diamond
no. 37) are set with 12 rose cuts (some are very small and not visible
in this photo).
(and correlates to N3 in type Ia diamonds; Zaitsev, 2001) was observed
in the spectra of 19 of
the 39 larger IaAB diamonds and in eight of the 49 smaller ones.
Comparison of luminescence behavior with diamond type reveals that type
IIa diamonds were in
the first and second fluorescence groups and showed either no fluorescence
or pinkish orange fluorescence.
The type Ia diamonds were in the third group of 39 stones that showed
Interestingly, all of the larger type Ia diamonds in the necklace fluoresced
(though very weakly in
some cases), which is a significant departure from the overall average
of 35% for colorless diamonds as reported by Moses et al. (1997).
It is also noteworthy that 13 of the 52 larger diamondsin the necklace
are type IIa (again, see figure 5, and, e.g., figure 6, right); this
includes seven of the nine large pendeloques, five of the old-mine cuts,
and one of the briolettes. It appears that 200 years ago, as today,
the finest large colorless diamonds were often type IIa (e.g., King
and Shigley, 2003).
Pinkish orangefluorescing type IIa diamonds are commonly called
Golconda diamonds (Scarratt,
1987; Fritsch, 1998), in reference to the historic trading area in India,
a possible source for these stones.
Golconda diamonds typically are described as having a faint-to-light
pink color. However, no pink hue was evident in the type IIa diamonds
in the Napoleon Necklace (as observed in the setting). This is consistent
with observations on the larger (20.34ct) diamond in the Marie Antoinette
earrings (also in the Smithsonian National Gem Collection), which Fryer
and Koivula (1986) described as colorless to near colorless (again,
as observed in the setting) and
is another type IIa diamond exhibiting pinkish orange fluorescence.
(Note that Fryer and Koivula also reported blue fluorescence for this
stone; however, our examinationconducted with the diamond unmountedshowed
a pinkish orange reaction to short-wave UV.) The 34 ct Little Sancy,
yet another historic colorless diamond, exhibits the same properties
(E. Fritsch, pers. comm., 2007).
When examined between crossed polarizers, all the type IIa diamonds
showed banded and crosshatched extinction patterns with first-order
interference colors of gray to blue. This feature, called tatami
graining, is typical of type IIa diamond (Smith et al., 2000).
Conclusion of the GIA describiton about the necklace:. Not only is
the Napoleon Necklace a
historic icon, but it also contains gemologically notable diamonds.
Infrared spectroscopy indicated
that 13 of the 52 larger diamonds are the relatively rare type IIa and
are colorless to near colorless with good clarity, consistent with the
jewels imperial pedigree. Apparently, the standards used 200 years
ago to select the finest diamonds are similar to those still used today.
The necklace is equally spectacular under an ultraviolet lamp, and the
diamonds luminescence behavior correlates to their diamond type.
Furthermore, it seems that colorless Figure 6. Typical infrared spectra
of diamonds from the Napoleon Necklace are shown here for a type IaAB
diamond (left, diamond no. 2), which shows the Raman line and absorption
bands arising from the presence of
A and B aggregates, platelets, and hydrogen; and for a type IIa diamond,
which shows only the intrinsic absorption of diamond (right, diamond
or near-colorless type IIa diamonds showing a pinkish orange fluorescence
are more common than previously thought. Indeed, those characteristics
were usually associated with pink Golconda diamonds, but the diamonds
examined here show no obvious bodycolor.
The Napoleon Necklace is one of the most spectacular jewelry pieces
of its period. With this report, it joins other items in the Smithsonians
National Gem Collection for which gemological data have been preserved
in the literature.
Shown here is the original case for the Napoleon Necklace (21.8 cm in
diameter), made in
Paris by Gruel (see inset). It is also part of the Smithsonian National
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr. Gaillou is a gemologist-geologist postdoctoral
fellow, and Dr. Post is curator of the National Gem
and Mineral Collection, both at the National Museum of
Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC.
© 2007 Gemological Institute of America Eloïse Gaillou and
Jeffrey E. Post Winter 2007, Volume 43,