Antique & Estate Jewelry

The Convertible Necklace Napoleon Gave His Mistress, Uncovered


On May 4, 1810, six days before French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistress, the Polish countess Marie Walewska, gave birth to their love child, he presented her with a gold and diamond necklace by jeweler Johann Gottlob Holub. (Napoleon had just married his second wife, the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise, on April 1.) Now, another circa-1810 jewel that Napoleon allegedly gifted to Marie Walewska has been uncovered: a diamond necklace convertible to a bracelet or tiara. And it can be yours for…a price on request.

MS Rau Napoleon bracelet
7-inch bracelet in 14k gold with old mine–cut diamonds, converted from the 15-inch necklace

Available from New Orleans–based antiques gallery M.S. Rau, the dynamic piece represents a style popularized by Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine: “wearing of fancy necklaces and tiaras in aristocratic fashion,” as M.S. Rau’s website describes the trend. “The couple was instrumental in reinstating France’s place as the arbiter of style and luxury,” according to the site. “As a patron of the arts, the empress encouraged French artists and craftsmen to create masterpieces that evoked the opulence and rich embellishments of the classical era. Under her discerning eye, the jewelry created during this period enhanced feminine gentility whilst remaining elegant, geometric, and stunning.”

MS Rau Napoleon tiara
The purported Napoleon gift as a tiara 

Boasting approximately 95 carats of diamonds, the convertible necklace was handcrafted to dazzle. “The high crown of these old mine gems had a purpose—they were cut that way so that they would sparkle under candlelight,” the Rau website explains. Each of the rosettes can be individually unscrewed from its base (with a special tool that comes in its original custom box by Parisian jeweler Lambert Vormus) and reassembled as a bracelet, necklace, or tiara.

Only two other necklaces considered comparable in design and diamond cut are known to exist: one that was owned by Joséphine Bonaparte and is now in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection, and another (albeit not convertible) that King George IV gave his mistress Lady Elizabeth Conyngham.

At top: Necklace, convertible to bracelet or tiara, in 14k gold with approximately 95 cts. t.w. old mine cut diamonds, price on request; M.S. Rau

(Photos courtesy of M.S. Rau)

Follow me on Instagram: @anniedwatson

Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine

By: Annie Davidson Watson

Log Out

Are you sure you want to log out?

CancelLog out