Necklace of the Stars

The Necklace of the Stars is part of the collection of the Portuguese Crown Jewels. True to its name, it’s composed of eighteen stars fashioned from diamonds, fastened to a thick gold chain. It was made in 1865, commissioned as part of a set by the Queen Consort, Maria Pia of Savoy. Due to security precautions, the Crown Jewels spend most of their time inside a vault.

The base of the necklace is a chain resembling of a tube made of gold mesh. Directly attached to this foundation are ten gold stars of graduated size. In the center of each is a large cushion cut diamond, with smaller cushion cuts filling the rest of the space. Hanging from smaller chains between the larger stars are eight smaller stars of similar composition. Though the stones are pink or colorless, their mount makes them appear golden.


Diadem of the Stars

Part of the Portuguese Crown Jewels, the Diadem of the Stars is part of a set of jewelry commissioned by Queen Consort Maria Pia of Savoy that also includes the Necklace of the Stars. Work on the diadem started in 1863, but wasn’t completed until 1866. While the headpiece is largely kept from the public eye, photographs are available online.

Compared to the lacy confections that are some tiaras, the diadem’s base is simply designed. There is a thick gold wire curved to fit the crown of the head, on which many gold posts are attached, alternating tall to short. The smaller posts hold large star bases with cushion and round cut diamonds mounted on top. The taller parts contain two little stars, one above the other. One notable detail about the diadem is that each star is spring mounted, allowing them to move with the wearer.


The Post Diamond Tiara

Among the many jewels the noted collector Marjorie Merriweather Post bought was a tiara dated to the 1840s. As is common with jewelry of that time, gold and silver are used as the base metals, with the latter being the more prominent. Though silver was a popular companion for diamond jewelry, it’s prone to tarnishing, which is one of the reasons the tiara today isn’t as bright as it could be. The diamonds, totaling 1,198, are shaped in rose and old mine cuts, which don’t reflect and disperse light as well as cuts developed in the 20th century.

Design wise, the tiara exemplifies the aesthetics of its time. Roses and wild daisies were a popular motif, and this headpiece is made to represent a garland of flowers and leaves in a fairly naturalistic rather than stylized fashion. One final touch also popular in the mid-19th century was to mount jewels onto springs, allowing them to move and catch the light with every motion of the wearer’s head.


Napoleon Diamond Necklace

This necklace was commissioned by Napoleon I of France around 1811 as a gift to his wife, Marie-Louise, to celebrate the birth of their son. Created by the firm Nitot et Fils, the necklace contained twenty eight mine cut diamonds set in gold and silver which support nine pendeloques, ten briolettes, and many more jewels. The total number of diamonds in the necklace is 234 stones and about 263 carats, with the largest diamond weighing over ten carats.

The diamonds have never been removed from their mountings, preventing proper grading. What gemologists have been able to determine is that some of the jewels have clear inclusions in the form of tiny crystals, along with some tension halos. About a hundred of the diamonds were subjected to infrared spectrometry, revealing many stones with nitrogen, and thirteen lacking any trace of nitrogen or boron, a trait found in roughly 1% of natural diamonds.

The necklace is available for public viewing at the Smithsonian Museum.


The Marie Louise Diadem

Commissioned in 1810, the Marie Louise Diadem was a gift from Napoleon I to his second wife, the diadem’s namesake. It was once part of a set containing matching earrings, a necklace and comb. The ensemble remained with Marie Louise’s birth family until they were sold to the jewelry company Van Cleef and Arpels in 1953. It was at this point that the pieces went their separate ways. While the diadem resides in the Smithsonian, the necklace and earrings belong to the Louvre. The comb has long since been taken apart.

The headpiece and its companions are mounted in gold and silver. They originally held diamonds and emeralds, though by 1962, the Van Cleef and Arpels replaced the emeralds with 540 carats worth of turquoise cabochons. The diamonds on the headpiece total 700 carats and 1,006 old mine cut stones. The overall design of the headpiece is that of scrolls, medallions and palm inspired flourishes.


Queen Victoria’s Fringe Brooch

Made in 1856 for Queen Victoria, this brooch has seen several renovations. The brooch features a large central diamond surrounded medium stones to emulate a rosette. Hanging from the bottom is a fringe of pave diamonds, with the center chains hanging lower than those on the edges. This design, as well as the choices of gold and silver mounting, hasn’t changed.

The brooch currently has a sizable emerald cut diamond at its center, with round brilliants serving as a halo. When it was first assembled, these cuts hadn’t yet been developed. Cushion, old mine and old European cuts diamonds would have likely been used.

Since Queen Victoria’s time, the brooch was worn by other queens, including the consorts Alexandra, Mary and Elizabeth. The brooch is now in possession of Queen Elizabeth II, who has been photographed wearing it. Along with others in the royal collection, the brooch was displayed to the public in 2012.


The Canning Jewel

Richly decorated, the Canning Jewel was thought to be made during the 1600s but was later dated to the 19th century. Dripping with pearls, the pendant features a merman with a sword and shield, decorated on all sides. The bulk of the piece is made of enameled gold, with baroque pearls, a blister pearl, rubies and diamonds.

The centerpiece of the jewel is the merman’s torso, composed of a single irregular pearl. The upper contours of the gemstone heavily mimic the shape of human shoulders in action. Its rubies come from and were likely cut in India, as most are cabochon and one is carved, as opposed to faceted styles popular in the West. The rubies probably added to the hypothesis that the jewel was made in the 16th century during the time of the Mughal Empire, but the shape and brightness of the diamonds hint at a much later date.


Pyrope Hair Comb

Donated to the Smithsonian in 1937, this hair ornament originates from the Czech Republic, with pyrope garnets hailing from Bohemia. From the 1500s to the early 1850s, Bohemia was a hotbed of mining activity for the bright red jewels. Garnets enjoyed strong popularity during the Victorian era, as were tiaras, whose aesthetics this hairpiece emulates.

The comb follows the style of many Bohemian designs, with many rose cut garnets clustered closely together. Its design curves upwards, culminating in a peak sporting a large garnet surrounded by radiating smaller stones. The hairpiece is so heavily encrusted that its gold mount is barely visible in front.