Today marks the 195th of the Birth of Empress Eugénie of France, who was born on this day in 1826! Doña María Eugenia de Palafox y Kirkpatrick, Countess of Teba and Marchioness of Ardales, popularly known as Eugenia de Montijo, became the Empress of the French after her marriage to Napoleon III, in 1853. The daughter of the Count of Monitjo, the sister of the Duchess of Alba, and the godmother of Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, who married the head of the Bonaparte family, Empress Eugénie lived a very long life dying at age 96, in Madrid. To mark the anniversary, we are featuring her marvellous Andean Emerald Cross, a 45 carat emerald cross that traveled through the French, British and Spanish Royal Collections, in an article written by assistant editor, David Rato, who runs the Spanish Royal Jewels account on Instagram!
This Andean Emerald Cross originates from the collection of Queen Isabel II and King Francisco of Spain, who reportedly sold it to the French Empress when they went into exile (although Queen Victoria noted in her journal that it was a wedding gift from the Spanish King to Empress Eugenie). The Empress was portrayed with this cross in various photographs, pairing it with other pieces from her splendid and famous jewellery collection, most notably an Emerald Diadem. In 1880, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom noted in her diary that she received a visit from Empress Eugenie, a few years into her exile in England, who handed to her a small packet, inside of it there was “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”.
Queen Victoria’s journals (from Vincent Meylan’s book) record:
“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)”
At some point, Queen Victoria gave the Emerald Cross to her beloved youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, who was once rumoured to be engaged to the only son of Empress Eugenie who had died quite young. The Princess wore this cross in some portraits with Queen Victoria’s Fringe Tiara and for the christening of her granddaughter, Infanta Maria Cristina, in 1911.
Princess Beatrice later gave Empress Eugenie’s Andean Emerald Cross to her own daughter, Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain, named Eugenie after her godmother, the Empress. This is when the Emerald Cross returned to the Spanish royal collection once again. The Queen suspended the cross from a long emerald sautoir made by Cartier that also incorporated other nine square emeralds inherited from the late Empress in 1920, which was worn for a portrait along with her Cartier Diamond and Emerald Tiara. In 1937, after the fall of the Spanish monarchy, the Queen sold the cross to Cartier in order to face her expenses in exile. Years later, the Countess of Barcelona recalled in an imprecise way: “the truth is that aunt Ena have solved many issues with her jewels. The house in Lausane, Vieille Fountaine, was bought with what she received from a huge emerald cross”, what is not correct.
To pair with this splendid piece, Cartier designed an Art Deco inspired necklace, using over 100 carats of the best emeralds that were available at the time. This new necklace was sold to the Bolivian tin mining millionaire Simón Itturi Patiño for his wife, who wore it on various occasions, and was also notably pictured on their granddaughter, Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, herself a second cousin of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and godmother of Charlotte Casiraghi. The necklace was later sold to Van Cleef and Arpels in the 1970s.
Some years later, Empress Eugenie’s Andean Emerald Cross came into the possession of Princess Olimpia Torlonia, daughter of Infanta Beatriz of Spain and the the 5th Prince of Civitella-Cesi and granddaughter of Queen Victoria Eugenie, who reportedly received it as a gift from her very rich father-in-law. Thus, the Emerald Cross returned into the hands of a descendant of Queen Victoria Eugenia. However, nowadays, we are not sure if the piece remains in her collection.