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Jewel Journeys – Empress Eugenie’s Emeralds

These gems began as the property of a French Empress, were given to a beloved goddaughter – a Queen – then landed in the royal court of Iran before being sold off to a Lebanese businessman. Follow along with the story our Baguette Iselen has spun for us! Part Jewel Journey, and part Pocket Profile, this is a fascinating tale. It all begins with the Fontenay tiara.

Eugenie Eugenie wearing the Fontenay Tiara Wikimedia Commons

The tiara belonged the Spanish-born noblewoman who was the wife of Napoleon III. Eugénie de Montijo was born in Granada in 1826. After her marriage in 1853, she became known as Empress of the French. The Empress was very beautiful, and she accumulated beautiful jewels to accentuate her loveliness.

The Fontenay tiara was made for Empress Eugenie in 1858, using emeralds from the Muzo mine that were in the court’s possession. As lovely as the emeralds were, the tiara was designed so they, and the strawberry leaves that contained them, could be removed and pearls added as toppers instead. Unfortunately, the Empress’ tenure was short, and when her husband was deposed in 1871, she no longer had use for many of the jewels in her collection. Some were sold, some were broken apart, and some were given away.

Eugenie gave her goddaughter Ena, the Queen of Spain, a mother-of-pearl fan in a box as a wedding gift. Ena thought it was a nice present but less fancy than she would’ve expected from her godmother, who, after all, had been an Empress. Family legend says that the box was placed in a drawer and forgotten. (Hofdame Note: if you know the story of Queen Ena’s wedding day, the fact that a gift was not thoroughly inspected is not at all surprising). Ena didn’t notice the emeralds under the fan in a bag! After Empress Eugenie’s death in 1920, Ena moved the fan and found the emeralds underneath.

Queen Ena in the first iteration of the necklace (shorter version)

Ena took the emeralds to Sanz jewelers in Madrid, who made them into a short necklace. Ena wore this in creative ways, including adding some diamonds and using it as a bandeau tiara.

Short version of necklace worn as a bandeau

She bought more emeralds later, and Cartier designed a long necklace along with the earrings (these new emeralds are not bad, but not as good as Empress Eugenie’s, which are top quality). The long necklace incorporated an emerald cross that Ena had received from her mother (which also originated with Empress Eugenie). Later, Cartier shortened the necklace and made a brooch and a ring with the emeralds.

Princess Beatrice and the Emerald Cross. It was a bequest from her mother, Queen Victoria, who received it as a gift from the exiled Empress Eugenie.

After her husband had been deposed as King of Spain, it was said Ena sold the set (it’s theorized that she did so to raise cash for her grandson’s wedding to Princess Sofia), and it was purchased by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlaví. He commissioned a new necklace for his third wife, Farah Diba, which was designed by Harry Winston.

When the Shah of Persia was exiled from his country, the emeralds were sold by the new government to Rose-Marie Chagoury, the wife of a wealthy Lebanese businessman.

Hofdame Note: That’s the story of emeralds owned by two exiled Empresses and one exiled Queen. If you want to explore further, there is more information on the jeweller Fontenay here. Interested in more information on the beautiful Empress Eugenie? See here. Do you want to dig into the exact iterations of the emeralds when owned by Queen Ena, including the history of the emerald cross? See here.

Let's talk about these emeralds.