The Diamond Necklace Affair
During the 1780s, one necklace became irreversibly linked to the French Queen Marie Antoinette. The necklace in question was commissioned by the previous king, Louis XV, as a gift to his mistress, Madam du Barry. The necklace would have enough pendants, tassels and festoons to cover the chest and lower torso, with large diamonds mounted on every surface. During the years it took to complete the piece, Louis XV died and du Barry was exiled from court. Neither the new king nor his wife was interested in the necklace.
A person by the name of Jeanne de la Motte wanted the necklace for herself, but had no interest in paying. She conducted an elaborate plan to pose as Marie Antoinette and have a member of the aristocracy buy the piece for her. The plot failed, and the political fallout was blamed on the queen. By this time, the necklace had been purchased and sent overseas, its stones taken apart and sold individually. A reconstruction of the piece is on display in the French museum Chateau de Breteuil.
The Marie Antoinette Watch
Started in 1783 and completed in 1827, the Marie Antoinette Watch is an elaborate timepiece that outlived both its namesake and original creator, Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. It wasn’t until four years after his death that his son was able to complete this masterwork. Not only did it keep the hours and minutes, the watch was designed with a perpetual calendar, thermometer, and every other feature available during this period
Among the many remarkable qualities of the watch is its aesthetics. Not only was the piece encased in gold, any brass component that could be replaced with gold, was. To display the beauty of its inner workings, the face was made from rock crystal, with mechanisms boasting sapphires.
The Marie Antoinette Watch was one of many victims of a 1983 Los Angeles Mayer Museum robbery. Despite police efforts, it would take until 2007 for the timepiece to be found and returned home.
Marie Antoinette Diamond Earrings
Popular legend states these earrings belonged to the French Queen Marie Antoinette, though their first confirmed owner was Empress Eugenie. Many of the French Crown jewels, along with stones owned privately by the royalty, vanished during the French Revolution and were resold with their origins disguised. When the earrings were sold in the twentieth century, they came with an affidavit by former owner Princess Zenaide Yousupoff of Russia attesting to their authenticity.
The major stones of the earrings are asymmetrical, with the central diamond on one being 14.25 carats and the other weighing 20.34. Both of them are pear shaped old mine cuts surrounded by pave diamond halos. They hang from posts topped with shield shaped diamonds. In 1964 the original silver and gold mounts were replaced with platinum and the shields exchanged for triangular cuts. The earrings have since been replaced into their original settings and donated to the National Gem Gallery.
Francois Delapierre Knee Buckle
Knee buckles were a piece of jewelry favored by wealthy men during much of the 18th century. They were used to fasten short trousers along the knee while adding style to an already showy ensemble. Some buckles were made of brass or other inexpensive metals, while the most elaborate could be made of silver or gold, and encrusted with jewels.
This particular knee buckle was made by a French artist named Francois Delapierre sometime between 1762 and 1768. The frame is made of silver, with a steel pin to better withstand the strain of holding tight fabric together. The silver is made of two grooved intertwining portions that form a rectangle together. This piece is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection.
James Tassie Paste Ring
Originally a stone cutter, James Tassie’s interest in paintings led him to formal art studies and an eventual career in gem engraving. His experiments with enamel culminated in the invention of a paste glass that convincingly mimicked fine gemstones and antique cameos. He made jewelry grade portraits not just of nobility, but also noted thinkers such as Adam Smith and William Cullen.
One such cameo featured the profile of Edward, Duke of Kent bezel mounted into a gold ring. The Duke’s visage is matte and entirely white, while the background is a uniform glossy blue. The back of the ring contains the inscription “Edward, Duke of Kent, to William St. Clair. 25th Regiment. 1788.” Viewers can find the piece through the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection.
Charles Jamieson Heart Brooch
Made at the very end of the 18th century, this brooch has an unusual method of fastening. An openwork heart topped with a crown, there is enough empty space in the middle of the brooch to pull in great bunches of cloth, skewered in place with the built in pin. The greater the strain on the prong, the more securely the brooch held.
The crowned heart style brooch is traditional to Norway and Scotland, and is believed to protect the wearer from harm. This specific brooch was made in Inverness, Scotland, cast in silver by a jeweler named Charles Jamieson. In the back of the piece is an inscription of Jamieson’s initials, allowing others to know who created the jewel.
Giovanni Pichler Ring
Made in Italy around the 1760s, this cameo ring highlights both the quirks of agate and the skill of its creator, Giovanni Pichler. Part of a family of jewelers, he created over 370 pieces in his lifetime and was highly sought after. Among his specialties were images from Greek mythology, such as the scene of Theseus and the Minotaur on the ring.
The background of the cameo is blue, while the setting is a lighter blue and the character’s white. Care must be taken to cut at just the right depth, so as not to crack the stone or hit a layer that doesn’t suit the design. Offsetting the cool colors is the yellow gold bezel mount and branching shoulders of the ring. The back of the mount contains the inscription of the artist’s initials, “IP.”