Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the Death of Queen Marie-José of Italy, who died on this day in 2001. The Belgian Princess who became the last Queen of Italy, Queen Marie Jose possessed the vast jewellery collection of the House of Savoy, but also had heirlooms from the Belgian Royal Family which included her Beauharnais Pearl Tiara!
Composed of a series of seed pearl and old-cut diamond arches to the fan-shaped spacers and two-row seed pearl and engraved gold band, the Beauharnais Pearl Tiara was created in Paris around 1829, making it one of the older Tiaras still in existence. The Tiara was lengthened to wear as a bandeau with gilt metal and imitation pearl back at some point in the 1920s.
The Tiara was made for Stéphanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden, an adopted daughter of Napoléon, who was pictured wearing the piece in an engraving in the 1830s. After Grand Duchess Stéphanie’s death in 1860, the Beauharnais Pearl Tiara was inherited by her granddaughter, Queen Carola of Saxony, who wore the Tiara for a portrait in the 1880s. In 1907, the Tiara was inherited by her cousin, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the Countess of Flanders, who left the Tiara to her son, King Albert I of Belgium, in 1912.
In 1924, King Albert and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium gave the Beauharnais Pearl Tiara to their only daughter Princess Marie-José, as an 18th Birthday Gift, around the time the Tiara was lengthened to be worn as a Bandeau. Princess Marie-José wore the Bandeau for many portraits and events, including the Bal de la Grande Harmonie in 1927, and while she wore the Beauharnais Pearl Tiara for the Belgian Royal Family’s visit to the Vatican just days before her Wedding to Crown Prince Umberto of Italy in 1930, she was not pictured wearing the Tiara after that.
However, Queen Marie-José retained the Beauharnais Pearl Tiara though her years as Crown Princess, a month as Queen, and then decades in exile, and after her death in 2001, the Tiara was inherited by her daughter, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, who auctioned it at Christies for GBP 43,200 in 2007. The Pearl Tiara was bought by the Mannheim Museum, where it it currently on display.