Editor’s Note: This article was updated with the final price and other details following the auction’s conclusion.
A rare nine-piece jewelry set once belonging to Stephanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden and the adoptive daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte, smashed auction estimates Wednesday to sell for 1.52 million Swiss francs ($1.67 million).
The sapphire and diamond parure included a tiara, earrings, a ring, bracelet and pendants. The jewels from the tiara and bracelet – once part of a belt – were remodeled by the grand duchess’s daughter, Princess Josephine.
The jewels were sold individually at Christie’s in Geneva, 200 years after the French emperor’s death. Each item exceeded the auction house’s initial estimates, which ranged from 10,000 to 250,000 Swiss francs ($11,000 to $275,430) per piece. The biggest earner was a sapphire and diamond tiara which fetched 525,000 Swiss francs (over $577,000).
“Under Napoleon’s court, jewelry was an essential part of fashion and women would wear matching, tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, rings, earrings and belts decorated with precious stones,” Christie’s specialist Lukas Biehler said in an email prior to the auction. “Fashion dictated that the waist was very high on dresses and court ladies needed a belt, which was placed just under the décolleté. High quality sapphires were incredibly rare as it was long before the time of industrial mining.”
Also featured in the Christie’s sale was a sapphire and diamond crown that once belonged to 19th-century Portuguese monarch Maria II, whose daughter, Infanta Antónia, eventually married Stephanie de Beauharnais’ grandson, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern. The crown sold for 1.77 million Swiss francs ($1.95 million).
A 100.94-carat diamond, which Christie’s said was the largest stone ever to be cut in Russia, meanwhile sold for 12.84 million Swiss francs ($14.13 million)
The Beauharnais set was made in the early 1800s from 38 sapphires originating in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), according to a press statement from Christie’s. The earrings are made with pear and cushion-shaped sapphires, while the necklace features octagonal step-cut sapphires – all ringed by diamonds.
A written note found with the jewelry boxes indicated that the Grand Duchess of Baden’s cousin, Hortense de Beauharnais, gave her the set, according to Christie’s.
“It is possible that Stephanie purchased the parure from her dear cousin,” Biehler said, pointing to the close relationship between the two that has been documented through their extensive letters, which reside in the collection of Fondation Napoleon in Paris.
The jewels are similar in style to an emerald and diamond necklace and earring set housed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which were believed to have been a gift from Napoleon and his consort Joséphine to the grand duchess. According to the museum’s description, “the large stones and the simplicity of design are typical of jewellery favoured at the court of Napoleon.”
The Victoria & Albert Museum set, also part of a larger parure, is thought to have been a wedding gift for her arranged marriage with the Grand Duke of Baden in 1806. Napoleon himself had no direct heirs at the time of his death.