The 10 most iconic jewels in history

The Napoleon diamond necklace

The historic Napoleon diamond necklace was gifted in 1811 by the French emperor to his second wife, Marie-Louise, upon the birth of their son, Napoleon II, the Emperor of Rome. The stunning silver and gold design was conceived by Etienne Nitôt and Sons of Paris and, according to the Smithsonian, originally featured 234 diamonds: 28 old mine-cut diamonds, nine pendeloques and 10 briolettes, enhanced by multiple smaller gems. “All of the stones were mined in India or Brazil, where the best diamonds came from at this point,” says Hiscox of the necklace’s mesmeric appeal. “They have this extraordinary limpid, water-like quality.”

Upon Napoleon’s downfall, his Hapsburg wife and her many jewels returned to her native Vienna, and following her death, the necklace passed to her sister-in-law Sophie of Austria. The archduchess resolved to shorten it by removing two stones and turning them into earrings, the whereabouts of which are currently unknown. The necklace, meanwhile, remained in the family until 1948, when it was sold first to a French collector, and eventually to the US businesswoman Marjorie Merriweather Post, who gave it to the Smithsonian in 1962. There, it continues to be revered, says Hiscox, as “one of the most spectacular pieces of [its] period”.

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