On a summer’s night in June 1791, King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette fled Paris in an unsuccessful attempted to escape France during the French revolution. Captured in Varennes, just 31 miles from the border and freedom, they were forced to return to Paris and their ultimate fates.
Marie Antoinette had carried a stash of her favorite jewels with her on this ill-fated journey and a number of her most valuable pieces had already been spirited out of France by several loyal friends. Although not known for certain, it is believed that these diamond earrings were among the jewels she personally carried with her. Given to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI, these earrings were said to be her favorites and it would be understandable that she would want to keep them with her.
The earrings feature two large, pear shaped diamonds weighing 14.25 and 20.34 carats. After these earrings were confiscated, along with most of the remaining pieces of the French royal jewels, their whereabouts disappeared for a time. At one point during the revolution, a large cache of confiscated royal jewels were stolen and never seen again. It is believed that many pieces were most likely broken up and sold to foreign buyers.
By 1853 the diamond earrings resurfaced again when Napoleon III gave them as a wedding gift to his new bride, Empress Eugenie, a well-known sympathizer and admirer of Marie Antoinette. An original engraving printed in the Illustrated London News – Wedding Edition, on February 1853 shows Eugenie wearing large diamond earrings.
In 1887 France held a large sale of the remaining crown jewels with everything being sold. By this time Eugenie had already sold her personal jewels, mostly between 1870-1872, after she was exiled to England.
The earrings next turn up in the possession of a Russian Grand Duchess who held them until 1928 when they were purchased by Pierre Cartier. Cartier described the earrings as still being in their original settings at the time he purchased them. It is not 100% certain if the silver frames were original to Marie Antoinette or original to Empress Eugenie, as it is possible the diamonds may have been put in new settings by Napoleon. It’s a jewelry mystery! At a later date Cartier replaced the tops of the earrings with triangular diamonds set in Platinum.
By October 1928 the earrings were now in the possession of the American heiress, Marjorie Merriweather Post, of Post cereal fame. In 1959 Harry Winston Inc. remounted the diamonds into platinum and diamond replicas of the “original” silver settings.
In 1964 Marjorie’s daughter, Eleanor Barzin donated the earrings along with their original settings to the Smithsonian Institution. Today, these magnificent earrings are on display in the Gem Gallery at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
By the mid-90s a limited number of crystal replicas were made for the Smithsonian Gallery by Avon Inc., to be sold in the museum. No longer in production, they can sometimes be found on the secondary market.
The replicas are beautiful and after seeing the original pair in person at the Smithsonian, I am happy to have these sparkling beauties in my personal collection and enjoy them for their style and the history behind them.
I also think they make the most gorgeous wedding earrings and are also beautiful for special occasion wear. Perfect for those events when you want to bring out your inner-Marie Antoinette!
References: Smithsonian Museum, Pinterest
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