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The Crown of Empress Marie Louise (made in 1810)

Although I often write about crowns, I have barely ever seen one.  I live in a republic and, sadly, I rarely go overseas where monarchs (and their headdresses) are located.  Today’s crown however is an exception.  I have seen it often at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The crown was created as a wedding gift from Napoleon to his second wife Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha Lucia von Habsburg-Lothringen (aka Marie Louise), Empress of the French from 1810 to 1814.  Napoleon divorced his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais for failing to provide a son and he then married Marie Louise, the eldest child of Emperor Francis I of Austria in order to provide both legitimacy for his royal dynasty and an heir.  Concerning his second wife Napoleon is said to have remarked that he “had married a womb.”

French Empress Marie Louise

Whatever his feelings, the crown Napoleon gave his second Empress is certainly lovely.  The crown itself is made of silver and encrusted with 950 diamonds. It originally had 79 large emeralds but these were replaced with Persian turquoise cabochons when the crown was purchased from from Archduchess Alice Elisabeth and her son Archduke Karl Stefan in the early 1950s by Van Cleef & Arpels jewelers. To quote allaboutgemstones.com:

The original emeralds were re-set by Van Cleef & Arpels into contemporary jewelry and marketed with the slogan, “An emerald for you from the historic Napoleonic tiara.” The Marie-Louise tiara is now located at the Smithsonian Institution’s American Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

Although undoubtedly the original emeralds were lovely, I have always liked the distinctive look of the turquoise set among the diamonds.  Many 19th century crowns were made of the most precious gems, but no others have the unique silver and sky blue color scheme which resulted from the crown’s strange history.

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