“Sweet and matchless Joséphine, how strangely you work upon my heart,” Napoleon Bonaparte famously – and romantically – wrote to his wife shortly after they met. Her name is synonymous with love, largely down to the eloquence of her husband’s often-quoted love letters.
A portrait of Napoleon’s great love, Empress Josephine
Two centuries later and the empress has a lasting legacy with another symbol of infatuation – a tiara of pearls and cameos, made in 1809 by Marie-Étienne Nitot, founder of Maison Chaumet, depicting the story of Cupid and Psyche. The heirloom was passed through the family, and is now part of the Swedish royal collection.
The exhibition Chaumet in Majesty: Jewels of Sovereigns Since 1780 at the Grimaldi Forum in the Principality of Monaco, tells the story of some of the maison’s most famous tiaras and fine jewels. It’s a lesson in aristocracy and social climbing, victory, but also defeat.
Chaumet’s Salle Des Diademes
Chaumet family legend states that Nitot bravely halted a runaway horse that was pulling Napoleon Bonaparte. After their chance meeting, the soon-to-be emperor quickly realised that if he was going to rule, he needed to look the part, and so did the ladies of his court. Napoleon’s love for all things fabulous ignited a passion for fine jewels amongst nobility, and all ladies invited to a ball would adorn themselves, showcasing their wealth and power.
Emperor Napoleon in his coronation robes
And so began Chaumet’s beautiful longstanding relationship with French aristocracy. Since 1780 the maison has made 3,500 tiaras, solidifying its social status at the helm of high-society headwear.
From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia's December 2019 Issue