Orléans Sapphire Parure

Today marks the 155th Anniversary of the Death of Queen Marie-Amélie of The French, who died on this day in 1866! The Bourbon-Two Sicilies Princess who married the Duke of Orléans in exile and then unexpectedly became the Queen of the French, Queen Marie-Amélie possessed a few splendid jewels, the most prominent of which was the Orléans Sapphire Parure!

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But first, lets learn about Queen Marie-Amélie! The tenth of eighteen children of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria, Princess Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily grew up during the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars, living in exile in Austria and later under British protection in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, after Naples was occupied. In 1809, Princess Maria Amalia married Prince Louis Philippe d’Orléans, the Duke of Orléans, a controversial match as his father had voted for the execution of of her uncle and aunt, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The couple had ten children, and moved to France after the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1814, and again in 1817, getting back the majority of the massive inheritance of the House of Orléans, and settling at the Palais Royal in Paris, which was lavishly refurbished and became a centre for Paris society. After the July Revolution of 1830, the Duke was made the King of the French, and despite being loyal to the Bourbon Monarchy, the new Queen Marie-Amélie resigned herself to her new role, saying: “Since by God’s will this Crown of Thorns has been placed upon our heads, we must accept it and the duties it entails.” After a subdued reign marked by religious duties and charitable work, when the King was forced to abdicate after the 1848 Revolution, Queen Marie-Amélie said to the presiding minster “Ah Monsieur, you were not worthy of such a good king!”. The family went into exile in England and lived a private life at Claremont House, where the now widowed Queen Marie-Amélie supported her grandson’s reconciliation with the Count of Chambord, the head of the senior Bourbon line, who made him his Heir. When she died in 1866, the Queen asked to be buried as the Duchess of Orléans at the Chapelle Royale de Dreux.

While the Orléans Family tradition states that the Parure comes from Queen Marie Antoinette, a letter sent by King Louis-Philippe (then the Duke of Orléans) to Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Empress Josephine and former Queen of Holland, confirms that it was bought by the Duke for 160 000 francs in 1821. The Parure was possibly the one inherited by Queen Hortense from her mother, Empress Josephine. Featuring very fine Ceylon sapphires set in gold and high quality diamonds, the Parure now consists of a Diadem, a necklace, a pearl of earrings, one large brooch and two smaller brooches, the original diadem was much larger but several pieces which were later used to create another Parure.

As she never considered herself the legitimate Queen of France, the Queen Marie-Amélie only wore her personal jewels throughout her husband’s reign, and was depicted wearing the entire parure with a Pearl and Sapphire Tiara from Bapst that she also owned for a portrait in the 1830s, attaching the many brooches to her skirt. The Sapphire Parure was taken with her into exile in England.

In 1864, Queen Marie-Amélie’s grandson, the Count of Paris, the Head of the House of Orléans, was marrying his cousin and her granddaughter, Princess Marie Isabelle d’Orléans, and Queen Marie-Amélie had the Diadem modified, removing four out of the nine original elements, before giving the parure as a wedding gift to the new Countess of Paris. While one of the removed elements was made into the large corsage brooch , the other three were added to her Pearl and Sapphire Parure by Bapst and left to her youngest son, the Duke of Montpensier, who was the father of Princess Marie Isabelle and she eventually also inherited the Pearl and Sapphire Parure in 1890, reuniting them in one collection. The Countess was pictured wearing the Sapphire Parure from the 1860s through to the 1890s, particularly after the family’s return to Paris in 1871 through they were forced to go back into exile after the lavish wedding of their daughter, Queen Amélie of Portugal in 1886. The Countess continued to hold on to the Parure through the years in exile and it was inherited by her son, Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who was separated from his wife, Archduchess Maria Dorothea of Austria, and so she never wore the Parure.

After the Duke’s death in 1926, the Head of the House of Orléans was his cousin, Prince Jean, Duke of Guise, who was married to his first cousin, Princess Isabelle of Orléans, the sister of the late Duke of Orléans and daughter of the Count and Countess of Paris, making her the next person, after her mother, to wear the Parure, which she did for a variety of royal events like the Wedding of the Duke of Apulia to her daughter, Princess Anne of Orléans, in 1927 and the Wedding of Princess Isabel Alfonsa of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in 1929, as well as a plethora of Official Portraits.

After the death of the Duke of Guise in 1940, the Headship of the House of Orléans passed to the couple’s eldest son, Prince Henri, Count of Paris, who was married to Princess Isabelle of Orléans-Braganza, and the Countess wore the Orléans Sapphire Parure for the grandest of royal events and portraits, particularly after the family’s return to France in 1950, notably including Wedding Ball of Duke Carl of Württemberg to her daughter, Princess Diane of Orléans, in 1960.

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Queen Marie-Amélie’s Pearl and Sapphire Parure also belonged to the Count and Countess, but was not as frequently worn, being most notably worn at the Wedding Gala of Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Princess Maria Pia of Savoy in 1955. In 1957, the Countess gave the Pearl and Sapphire Parure to Duchess Marie-Thérèse of Württemberg when she married her eldest son and heir, Prince Henri, Count of Clermont, and that was also worn at the Wedding Ball of her brother, Duke Carl of Württemberg, to her sister-in-law, Princess Diane of Orléans, in 1960. The Pearl and Sapphire Parure returned to the Count and Countess after the couple’s divorce in 1984.

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Meanwhile, the Countess of Paris continued to wear the Orléans Sapphire Parure for a variety of grand occasions, including the British Chamber of Commerce Ball in Paris in 1965, during a visit from Princess Alexandra of Kent, as well as the Wedding Ball of Infanta Pilar of Spain in Portugal in 1967. She also wore parts of the parure for society events like the Wedding of Christine Roussel and Jean de Luynes Dunois, Duke of Chevreuse in 1973.

However, by the 1980s, the Count of Paris, with his massive brood of eleven children, had managed to exhaust the family’s extensive fortune and the Count put up the Orléans Sapphire Parure for sale in 1985, selling it at a depreciated price of 5 millions francs to the Musée du Louvre. The Pearl and Sapphire Parure was sold to a private buyer in 1997 and has disappeared from public view, but the Sapphire Parure is on display at the newly refurbished Galerie d’Apollon in the Louvre, where I had the pleasure of seeing just over a year ago, right before the Coronavirus crisis. While the diadem is quite small, the size of the sapphires is so impressive and the overall parure is so splendid that I surely recommend you all visit to go see it (when the Louvre opens its doors again)!

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Royal Magazin | Louvre

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