The story of these illustrious Emeralds is a truly fascinating one.
Owned by two Empresses and a Queen, they have passed through several important jewellery houses but today remain locked away in private collections and bank vaults.
The Emeralds made their first appearance at the court of the Second French Empire as a wedding present to the new French Empress, Eugenie.
Born Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick – 16th Countess of Teba, Empress Eugenie began life as a Spanish aristocrat but was mainly educated in Paris. In 1853, she was married to Emperor Napoleon III, ruler of France from 1852 to 1870.
However, the origins of the jewels remain a mystery. Gemmological research confirms that they came from the Muzo mine in Colombia but how and when they made their way to Eugenie is unknown. The most persuasive theory is that they came from the Spanish Royal Collection.
The Spanish Empire controlled South America and the Spanish Crown was entitled to ⅕ of any spoils from the New World. This would have included the Emerald mines of Colombia.
Regardless of how they came into her possession, Eugenie put the stones to good use and in 1858 she commissioned a Tiara from the French Jeweller Eugene Fontenay.
Fontenay’s philosophy on jewellery was simple:
“I like art … in which knowledge is subordinated to taste”.
With this in mind, he created a tiara with nine large gold fleurons (leaves), each featuring an Emerald that could be interchanged with Pearls.
The politics of France in the 19th Century were tumultuous to say the least.
In 1871, Napoleon III was overthrown and Empress Eugenie was forced in to exile. Luckily, she had had the good sense to send her jewels out of the country beforehand and these were forwarded to her when she reached England.
Her only child Louis Napoleon died in 1879, leaving Empress Eugenie no further need for her jewels. She sold many of her items at auction in 1872 but she kept a few important pieces to be dispersed amongst the British Royal Family, with whom she had become close.
According to Vincent Meylan in his book ‘Van Cleef & Arpels’, In August 1880 Queen Victoria received a visit from Empress Eugenie. She recorded in her diary that:
“ She asked me to keep a small packet which I was only to open after her death. And then she said would I like to perhaps open it and ‘de l’avoir de mon vivant’ (to have it in my lifetime) which I said I would. And she undid the parcel and took out the most splendid Emerald cross, cut out of one stone, without any joint, and set at the points with fine diamonds, with two magnificent large ones at the top. It had been given her by the King of Spain when she married. When I asked her if she would still not wear it, she answered ‘non, non, jamais plus de pareilles choses’ (no no, no more of these things)”
After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, the Emerald Cross was inherited by her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice of Battenberg.
Princess Beatrice was especially close to Empress Eugenie, naming her only daughter Victoria Eugenia and asking the Empress to be the baby’s godmother .
In 1906, Victoria Eugenia (also known as Ena) married King Alfonso XIII of Spain. As such, she was gifted the Emerald Cross by her mother and (unbeknown for many years) several large Emeralds from her godmother, Empress Eugenie.
According to family legend, Queen Ena received an ornamental fan from Empress Eugenie as a wedding gift. As grateful as she was for her present, she stored the fan away until after the Empress Eugenie had died in 1920. Taking it out of the box, she was shocked to discover that under the fan had been placed nine large, square cut Emeralds totalling 196 carats. It is thought that Empress Eugenie had hidden them under the fan to avoid heavy customs duties .
Queen Ena was very versatile with her jewellery. Initially, she commisioned the Spanish jeweller Sanz to mount the Emeralds into a grand necklace which she sometimes wore as a bandeau style tiara.
She then instructed Cartier to create a Diamond and Emerald sautoir featuring her Emerald Cross (similar to her Aquamarine Parure by Ansorena). She also remodelled one of her wedding gifts in to the Cartier Pearl Tiara, ensuring the Pearls could be interchanged with her Emeralds.
Finally, she had Cartier shorten the sautoir and turned it into a double-row necklace with two lines of diamonds placed in between each one of the square emeralds. Two of the emeralds were removed, one of them (18 carats) was used to create a “clip” brooch with 84 brilliant diamonds and the other (16 carats) was set as a large ring with eight more diamonds.
Like her godmother before her, Queen Ena went into exile in April 1931 following the Second Spanish Revolution. The Royal family settled in Switzerland but with no means of regular income, Ena was forced to sell her jewellery piece by piece. In 1937, she sold the 45 Carat Emerald cross to Cartier.
Using over 100 carats of the best emeralds that were available at the time, Cartier produced a stunning emerald and diamond necklace to accompany the Cross.
This piece was sold to the Bolivian Tin mining millionaire Simón Itturi Patiño .
Queen Ena held on to her Emerald Parure as long as she could. Together with the Cartier tiara and a few bracelets, she considered them some of her most valuable pieces, wearing them for an iconic series of photographs taken at Claridges Hotel in London in 1947 for Life magazine.
When talking about her mother-in-law’s jewellery collection, the Countess of Barcelona remarked that:
“The most important thing she had was a magnificent emerald necklace that her godmother, the Empress Eugenia, left her. Many times she would show me a photography, and would tell me: “this necklace will one day be yours.” But, of course, then things happened in life and it couldn’t be”.
Eventually though, needing the money to pay for the wedding of her grandson, Juan Carlos to Princess Sophia of Greece, Queen Ena sold the necklace, the brooch and the ring at auction in Stucker Bern in 1961. The ring and the brooch were bought separately and remounted by the jeweller Meister as a pendant and a ring.
The necklace was acquired by the New York jeweller, Harry Winston who remounted the Emeralds once again. The jewels then made their way to yet another royal family –
the Pahlavi’s of Iran.
Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran gave the Emeralds to his third wife Empress Farah who paired them with other historic jewels from the Iranian Collection.
After the fall of the Iranian Monarchy, it was presumed that the necklace, along with the rest of the Iranian Royal Jewels was still in the vault of the Central Bank of Tehran. But thanks to a contribution on Instagram it has been discovered that it is now owned by Mr Chagoury, a successful Lebanese Businessman
The Emerald Cross reappeared in Van Cleef and Arpels in 1974. The firm modified the necklace removing two emeralds and two pairs of the diamond spacers. These emeralds and two diamonds from the spacers were used in the creation of a pair of drop earrings.
Thanks to the research by The Royal Watcher and David Rato of Spanish Royal Jewels, it has been discovered that some years later, Empress Eugenie’s Emerald Cross came into the possession of Princess Olimpia Torlonia, daughter of Infanta Beatriz of Spain and granddaughter of Queen Ena. She reportedly received it as a gift from her very rich father-in-law. However, we cannot confirm whether or not the Cross is still in the family’s possesion.