By Barbara Redmond

Place Vendôme, Paris, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

Who, among us, like Audrey Hepburn, the woman in Givenchy’s little black dress in the American film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, herself weighted down in jewels looking through Tiffany’s window, hasn’t felt the richness and power of diamonds?

I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like… It’s like Tiffany’s… Not that I give a hoot about jewelry. Diamonds, yes. But it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty, said Miss Hepburn, as Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Who couldn’t feel the transformative expression of the dramatic—through statement-making pieces on display in the joailleries at the Place Vendôme in the heart of Paris?

My reason for choosing diamonds is that, dense as they are, they represent the greatest worth in the smallest volume, quoted the 20th century Parisian fashion designer, Mademoiselle ‘Coco’ Chanel.

French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III

Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, lusted after diamonds. She was a compulsive bejeweled clotheshorse and known as the most stylish woman of her day. She favored furniture and interior design in the style popular during the reign of Louis XVI “Sun King.” In 1885, when the Empress wore the new cage crinolines, European fashion followed suit. The fashion trendsetter was famed for her oversize crinolines, tight fitting riding habits, Worth gowns, and her diamond jewelry. When persuaded by her legendary couturier, Charles Worth, to abandon the huge skirts nearly twenty-five years later, the silhouette of womens’ dresses adopted her style.

As Empress, Eugénie had access to the French Crown Jewels and retained the serves of some of the finest jewelers of the period. In additon to resetting old pieces, the Empress also added new pieces to the Crown Jewels of France. Her zeal for diamonds was so inexhaustible that she even commissioned a copy made of the Hope diamond (previously “Le bleu de France”) a large 45.52 carat deep-blue diamond. Her elegant fashion and legendary jewels were the subjects of innumerable paintings by her favorite portraitist, Franz Winterhalter.

French Empress Eugénie and her diamonds

The Eugénie Diamond

Catherine the Great of Russia also had a lust for jewelry and access to the Russian Crown Jewels, commissioning the best jewelers of the period to design and redesign pieces of the collection. A diamond of perfect 51 carats, pear-shaped and beautifully cut, was the centerpiece of a hair ornament she once wore.

In 1853, Napoleon III purchased the diamond then known as the “Potemkin” and presented it as a wedding gift to his bride Eugénia. The Potemkin diamond was set in an exquisite diamond necklace that she wore, and the Empress renamed the stone the “Eugénie,” the name by which the diamond is known today.

Empress Eugénie’s Great Diamond Cluster

Empress Eugénie’s Great Diamond Cluster is a perfect example of the Second Empire style, in particular, for its passementerie, the art of making intricate trimmings or edgings. In 1855, the Empress Eugénie’s jeweler made a belt for the Empress studded with 4,485 diamonds. The piece was displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris that same year.

By 1864, the belt had been dismantled and redesigned for the Empress. Its centerpiece, a magnificent diamond bow cluster, was elaborated even more by five diamond pampilles, (pendants), and a pair of diamond tassels.

Empress Eugénie’s Crown

As it was important for the Imperial regime to impress the whole world, Napoleon III had exhibited the Crown diamonds, which he had refashioned for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, in 1855. Although the Emperor and the Empress never underwent a coronation; a consort crown was created specially for her with a portion of these stones.

The crown of the Empress made of chased gold and 2,480 diamonds and 56 emeralds is an exquisite example of the Second Empire and the jeweler’s art. The design of the Empress’s Crown follows a pattern found on the Imperial Arms of the First Empire. It is made of eight eagles alternating with long laurel leaves that stem from palmettes, an artistic motif resembling the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree. The eagle and palmette themes are recurring imperial symbols. The Emperor’s crown, thought to be of a similar design, is now lost.

French Crown Jewels: The “Regentdiamond

The diamond known as the “Regent,” discovered in 1698 in Golconda, India, and cut in England, was purchased for the French Crown at the request of the Regent Philippe d’Orléans in 1717. Until that time the Regent surpassed all diamonds known in the western world.

The Regent was first worn by Louis XV, in 1721. For the coronation of Louis XVI, in 1775, a new crown was made featuring the Regent on the front. Stolen in 1792, and found hidden in roof timbers the following year, the diamond was used as security by the Directoire and later the Consulat, before being redeemed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801, and was once mounted on the hilt of the Emperor’s sword.

As the ruling regime changed, the diamond was consecutively mounted in the crowns of Louis XVIII, Charles X and Napoleon III, and at last on the Grecian diadem of Empress Eugénie.


Jewels in the Louvre (Musée du Louvre) by Adrein Goetz and Claudette Joannis. Flammarion publishers.

VOCABULARY: French to English translations

Bling-Bling: Informal, expensive, ostentatious jewelry or the wearing of them. Origin 1990s.
Diadem: A jeweled crown or headband worn as a symbol of sovereignty.
Diamant: From the Old French word for diamonds.
Joaillerie: Jewelry store, jeweler.
Palmettes: Artistic motif resembling the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree.
Pampilles: A long stand.
Passementerie: The art of making intricate trimmings or edgings.

Barbara Redmond 708x955 Paris #2Barbara Redmond, publisher of A Woman’s Paris®, is a long-time Francophile and travels to Paris every chance she gets. Her stories about Paris and France have been published in AWP® and republished, with permission, by other blogs and publications. Barbara has presented programs on French fashion and food, and has been a guest speaker for students planning their study abroad. She serves as an advisory board member at the University of Minnesota College of Design and is an active student mentor. Barbara has been recognized for excellence in art by international and national organizations and publications. Prints of her fine art paintings are in collections in Europe and North America and are available for purchase.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, French Crown Jewels: Empress Eugénie, by Barbara Redmond who writes about pieces from Empress Eugénie’s private collection and the French Crown Jewels that were split up by the national assembly and sold at public auction. Stories of Empress Eugénie’s famous Bow Brooch, Pearl and Diamond Tiara, and private jewels. Including Barbara’s favorite book about the jewels in the Louvre, Paris. 

French legend proved true with the discovery of blood of King Louis XVI in gourd, by Andrea Johnson who shares with us a stimulating morsel of French history that seems just a little more tangible as it occurs right before our eyes. (French)

French Décor: Mirrors and Versailles, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who takes us on a journey of mirrors, from those made on the island of Murano, part of the city of Venice, to the Versailles mirrors which were among the first mirrors to be manufactured in France. A story of secrets, high-stakes, and intrigue. 

Paris Sales: Chic. Chèque? Choc! by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who takes us on a virtual stroll through the Palais Royal, this quiet garden in the middle of the city surrounded by arcades in which there are some delightful boutiques and one of Paris’ oldest restaurants, Le Grand Véfour. Through Philippa’s tour, she includes a pause for a story about Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat and a scene-of-the-crime that is straight from grand opera.

Text copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.