The French Connection: or
Have Gem Will Travel

Herein are contained some romantic tales of Thomas Pitt the first Nabob,
the French crown Jewels, George IV,
Napoleon, and what Marie Louise packed for a trip to Vienna.

The Regent diamond

The Regent is a large high quality diamond with a long, well documented history. The story of the gem sounds like a potboiler novel but is in truth complete with the rich and famous, murder, revolution and theft.

This diamond was found in India in the 17th century and smuggled to the coast hidden under the bandages covering a self inflicted wound. The finder was murdered by an English sea captain, who sold the diamond for $5,000 to a Iranian trader. In 1702, the diamond was sold to Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras for about $100,000. Pitt, the first Nabob, had amassed a huge fortune through trade both on his own and as an agent for the East India Company. In the rough, the diamond weighed 410 carats. Pitt sent the diamond home to England where it was cut into a cushion shaped brilliant weighing 140.5 carats. The stone then became known as the Pitt. In 1717, Pitt sold the gem to Philippe, duke of Orleans, the nephew of Louis XIV, who was Regent of France. The diamond then took on the name Regent. It was worn in the crown of Louis XV at his coronation in 1722, and was frequently worn by Marie Antoinette a generation later.

In 1792, the diamond was stolen together with the French Blue and other French crown jewels during the looting accompanying the French Revolution. Unlike many others, it was quickly recovered. It was given as security for a war loan in 1797 but redeemed five years later.

When Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor of France in 1804, he carried the great diamond in the hilt of his coronation sword. After Napoleon's abdication in 1814, Marie Louise his second wife took the jewel with her when she returned to Vienna. The jewel was later returned to France by the Austrian emperor. Charles X wore the Regent at his coronation in 1825, and it remained in this crown until placed in a diadem for the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.

In 1887, all of the French crown jewels except the Regent were sold at auction. The Regent was put on exhibition at the Louvre. Except for a short time during the Second World War when it was hidden behind a stone panel at the Chateau du Chambord, it remains at the Louvre.

Read more about Philippe, Duc D'Orleans: Regent of France by Christine Pevitt

Some other Baubbles

Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian statesman, seems to have suggested Marie Louise to Napoleon, who was looking for a wife with royal blood and had already decided to dissolve his childless marriage with the empress Joséphine.

Marie Louise wearing
the jewels Napoleon gave her.
Marie Louise was Marie Antoinette's grand niece and the daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis I (formerly Holy Roman Emperor Francis II). The match was arranged in February 1810. Marie-Louise was married to Napoleon at Paris on April 1-2. On the occasion of their wedding Napoleon gave her a parure consisting of a diamond and emerald diadem, necklace, comb, belt buckle, and earrings. The jewelery was made by Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris. On March 20, 1811, she bore him the long-desired heir, the king of Rome and the future Duke von Reichstadt. Napoleon gave a 275-carat diamond necklace to Empress Marie Louise to celebrate the birth of their son.

Marie-Louise threw a few things in a bag for her return to the Habsburg family in Vienna, Austria after the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, including all her jewelry and the Regent diamond. The Treaty of Fontainebleau awarded her the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla with full sovereignty. Metternich introduced Marie Louise to the womanizer Count Adam Adalbert von Neipperg to keep the pleasure loving woman occupied.

Napoleon demanded that Marie Louise join him on Elba bringing their son and the jewels in her possession. She refused. During the Hundred Days (1815) she remained in Austria, showing no interest in the success of Napoleon in France. Marie Louise was confirmed in the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla at the Congress of Vienna.

The diadem is in the Smithsonian but the emeralds are replaced with turquoise. The jewelry firm Van Cleef & Arpels still owns the necklace and comb. The whereabouts of the earrings and belt buckle are unknown. The diamond necklace given to Marie Louise on the birth of Napoleon's heir is also in the Smithsonian collection.

Read more about: Napoleon & Marie Louise: The Emperor's Second Wife by Alan Warwick Palmer.

The French Blue later The Hope Diamond

The Hope diamond is a rare large blue diamond with a romantic history that includes revolution, theft and the rumor of a curse. It is the largest known deep blue diamond. The diamond probably came from the Kollur mine, a well known source of colored diamonds, in the Golconda area of India. In what year it was discovered is unknown. In 1668, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French gem merchant who had traveled widely in the east sold a 112 3/16-carat blue diamond from India to King Louis XIV of France. The King had the stone recut in 1673 to improve its brilliance reducing it to a heart shaped stone weighing 67 1/8-carats. Louis XIV died of smallpox in 1715.

In 1749 Louis XV had the diamond, listed in Royal inventories as the French Blue or Blue Diamond of the Crown, set into a ceremonial piece of jewelry for the Order of the Golden Fleece. The gem appears again in paintings of Marie-Antoinette. The gem was among those looted from the Royal Treasury between September 11th and 17th in 1792 during the French Revolution. With the beheading of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette added to the unnatural death of Louis XIV and rumors that Tavernier had been ripped to pieces by wild dogs in India the story of a curse attached to the stone began to circulate. The story went that the gem had been stolen from an idol in India and would curse all owners until it was returned to the idol. Napoleon attempted to track and recover the French Crown Jewels. Despite his best efforts the whereabouts of the French Blue remained a mystery for over twenty years.

In 1812 two days after the French war crimes statute, allowing twenty years to recover items or prosecute for war crimes, was up a 44 1/4 -carat blue diamond was sold by London jeweler John Francillon to London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason. The memorandum established the person in possession of the diamond as its new legal owner. The stone was undoubtedly the French Blue recut. The gem seems to have been purchased by King George IV around 1820. George IV had tried to get Parliment to purchase rather than rent the jewels for his Coronation crown. Given his selfindulgent nature it seems likely that having once thought of purchasing gems he was incapable of giving up the thought totally. When Parliment refused to fund the purchases, he no doubt couldn't resist buying a few gems anyway. The gem historian John Mawe stated in his book A Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones (1823) that, "A superlatively fine blue diamond weighing 44-carats, and valued at 30,000 pounds, formerly the property of our Mr. Eliason, an eminent diamond merchant, is now said to be in the possession of our most gracious sovereign." We see something suspended on the back of the left hand of George IV on chains running to a bracelet in a coronation drawing, which could be the stone. The gem was probably sold at the time of the death of George IV in 1830 to help cover his many debts. In 1830 London banker and gem collector Lord Henry Hope purchased the stone and his family name became attached to the gem. The rare blue diamond passed to his nephew Henry Thomas Hope on the death of the banker in 1839. It next passed to the grandson of Henry Thomas one Lord Francis Hope. The story of the curse probably inspired Wilkie Collins with a plot device for his 1868 novel The Moonstone.

The diamond had many other owners over the years. Some of them suffered tragedies. In 1958, jeweler Harry Winston presented the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution.

Read more about The Days of the French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert

Read more about George IV by Michael De-La-Noy

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