A much travelled Imperial tiara

The Empress Eugénie tiara, made by Gabriel Lemonnier in Paris in 1853, featuring pearls from a parure formerly created for Empress Marie Louise, wife of Napoleon I.

The word sumptuous springs to mind when considering this splendid tiara with its luscious scrolls, volutes of diamonds and extraordinary pearls. It is difficult to imagine a jewel which illustrates the spirit and grandeur of mid-century Paris more perfectly.

Empress Eugénie wore the tiara frequently during her husband’s reign, and was often portrayed wearing it, including during a State Visit to England in 1855 where they met Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, see image below.

However, the tiara formed part of the French Crown Jewels and was not Eugénie’s personal property. As a consequence, after the collapse of the French Second Empire and her exile to England it remained in France together with the rest of the Crown Jewels.

Edward Matthew Ward (1816-79), detail fromThe Investiture of Napoleon III with the Order of the Garter, 18 April 1855, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1860 | Royal Collection Trust
Two days after their arrival in Windsor on their State Visit, a Chapter of the Order of the Garter was held in the Throne Room to invest the Emperor with the insignia of the Garter. The Empress Eugénie is seated in the foreground and she is wearing the tiara. In April 1855 Ward had asked to be allowed to witness key scenes at Windsor Castle during the Visit, describing the event as 'this most interesting & gorgeous spectacle'.

The Royal collection of jewels was subsequently exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878 – an exhibition that would have an immense influence on jewellery design for the remainder of the century. Eventually the collection was broken up and sold at public auction in 1887 where the tiara was purchased by Julius Jacobi who then sold it on to Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis in 1890.

A contemporary illustration of the French Crown Jewels as displayed prior to their auction in 1887. The auction ran from 12-23 May, and understandably attracted worldwide attention with many crown jewellers and jewellers in attendance. A proposal to sell the Crown Jewels was first presented to the National Assembly in 1848.

Portrait of Empress Eugénie in court dress wearing the pearl and diamond tiara created by Lemonnier | Etienne Billet (1821-1888), After Franz Xaver Winterahalter (1805-1873), oil on canvas | Musée de la Marine, Marseille, France

The tiara is now exhibited in the Galerie d’Apollon at the Louvre Museum, next to the crown also made by Lemonnier for Empress Eugénie’s coronation.

Empress Eugénie's crown, made by Lemonnier and created on the occasion of the 1855 Exposition Universelle held in Paris. The gold crown is set with diamonds and emeralds in eagle and palmette motifs and is topped with a monde or orbe. Eugénie's crown was not sold with the other Crown Jewels in 1887, it was returned to the former Empress who bequeathed it to Marie-Clothilde Bonaparte. It was sold at auction in 1988 and was donated to the Louvre Museum.

It is interesting to note that this tiara had been worn for at least three marriages; the first in Paris between Napoleon III and Eugénie de Guzman, Comtesse de Teba in 1853, for which occasion it had been created; the second in Budapest between Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Archduchess Margarethe of Austria in 1890; the third and last time in Regensburg between Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis and Countess Gloria Schoenburg-Glauchau in 1980.

Archduchess Margarethe of Austria, Princess von Thurn und Taxis (1870-1955)