These beautiful Sapphires were originally part of the same, much larger set. Separated after the 1848 Revolution, they were reunited under the previous claimant to the French throne only to be split up once more.
Like most surviving French royal jewellery, these stones are thought to have belonged to Empress Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Their marriage was childless but her children Eugene and Hortense were adopted by Napoleon.
Their new status enabled Eugene to become the Duke of Leuchtenberg and Hortense the Queen of Holland. When Josephine died in 1814, her will stated that Hortense was to inherit “a portion of her mother’s diamond collection, a ruby parure and a sapphire parure“.
After a the events of 1815, Hortense was banished from France, taking her jewels with her.
In 1821, while living in exile in Italy, she sold the Sapphires to Louis Philippe, Duke d’Orleans. He then presented them to his wife, Marie Amelie of Naples and Sicily (niece of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette). When Louis Philippe became King of the French in 1830, the Sapphires became part of the French Royal Collection once more.
The Sapphires were sent to the renowned French jeweller Bapst to be remade into the grand set that Queen Marie Amelie wore for her portrait by Louis Hersent in 1836.
In this painting she can be seen wearing a Diamond, Sapphire and Pearl tiara, set against her black hat. The Tiara features upright Sapphire and Diamond clusters set on a Diamond and Pearl base. This is the tiara that will come to be known as the Montpensier Tiara.
The remaining Sapphires were converted into a necklace, a pair of earrings, and several brooches, some of which are pinned to the front of Marie Amelie’s dress. These brooches would become the basis for the second Sapphire parure, the Comte de Paris set.
According to jewellery historian, Vincent Meylan:
Originally the tiara had nine elements. Only five remain. A sixth one was used to make the brooch. The three last sapphire elements were added as brooches to another tiara to form a second parure which the queen gave to one of her sons. It is also possible that the necklace was modified. The square sapphires do not seem to fit with the other oval sapphires.
When Marie Amelie died in exile in 1866, the two sets were divided amongst her descendants. The Diamond, Sapphire and Pearl set was inherited by her youngest son, Prince Antoine, Duke of Montpensier. The later Diamond and Sapphire set was given to her grandson Prince Philippe, Comte de Paris (He was the eldest son of her eldest son, Prince Ferdinand Philippe, who had died in 1842.)
In 1864, Prince Philippe married his first cousin Princess Marie Isabelle (daughter of Prince Antoine, Duke of Montpensier) and the Sapphires were reunited once more.
Their daughter Isabelle also married her first cousin Jean, Duke de Guise. He had inherited the title Comte de Paris when Isabelle’s brother, Prince Louis Philippe Robert died without legitimate children.
During her time, she wore the tiara in the 1920s bandeau style.
Jean and Isabelle’s son Henri became the next Comte de Paris in 1940. When he married a member of the Brazilian Royal family, Isabelle d’Orleans-Braganza, she became the next custodian of the Sapphires.
Comtesse Isabelle wore the Comte de Paris Set frequently and lent the Montpensier Set to her daughter in law, Marie-Thérèse of Württemberg.
Unfortunately, Comte Henri spent most of the family fortune on his political causes and supporting his large family. He was eventually forced to sell both the Comte de Paris and the Montpensier set.
The Montpensier set (including its original display box from Bapst) was sold to a private buyer and its current location is unclear.
Luckily, in 1985 the Comte de Paris set was bought by the Louvre Museum where it can still be viewed and enjoyed by visitors today.