La Regente Pearl - La Perle Napoleon

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Origin of name

La Regente Pearl

The "La Regente Pearl" also known as the "La Perle Napoleon" which originally weighed 346.27 grains (337 old grains), is the 5th largest pearl in the world and perhaps the largest pearl of a regular shape, and was given as a gift by Emperor Napoleon I to his second wife and Queen Consort Marie Louise in 1811, as the centerpiece of a pearl tiara, which was the main component of a complete pearl parure. The pearl was subsequently dismantled and set as the centerpiece of a diamond and pearl corsage on the request of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife and Queen consort of Napoleon III in the year 1853. This extraordinary pearl with a combination of desirable characteristics had not been given a particular name since it was acquired by Napoleon I in 1811 from the French Crown Jeweler Francois Regnault Nitot.

The inventories of the French Crown Jewels described the pearl without a name as "a very large pear-shaped pearl, in the form of an egg, flat at the back, and very beautiful orient at the front." The first time the name "La Regente" was used for the pearl was in the year 1887, when in a catalogue published in preparation for the historic auction of the French Crown Jewels as recommended by the Parliament of the 3rd Republic, the pearl was mistakenly or deliberately referred to as the "La Regente" in spite of the fact that another celebrated and historic jewel in the French Crown Jewels, the 140.64 carat, D-color, internally flawless diamond of Indian origin, also bore the same name. The diamond was actually known as "Le Regent" (the Regent Diamond), and the experts who prepared the catalogue had perhaps given the name "La Regente" deliberately to be analogous with the name of the diamond. The 140.64-carat  "Le Regent Diamond" was the largest diamond in the French Crown Jewels, and perhaps the experts who prepared the catalogue decided to give the largest pearl in the collection a name that rhymes with the name of the largest diamond. Hence the name "La Regente."

Perhaps there was another justification for the use of the name "La Regente" by the experts. This was that both empresses who made use of the pearl, Marie Louise, as the centerpiece of a pearl tiara and  Eugenie de Montijo, as a corsage, acted as regents in the absence of their husbands. Marie Louise acted as regent in the year 1813, in the absence of her husband Napoleon I, during his campaign in Germany. Eugenie de Montijo acted as regent in 1870, in the absence of her husband Napoleon III, who was engaged in the disastrous campaign also coincidentally in Germany.

 

La Perle Napoleon

Germain Bapst, who once served as the crown jeweler of France, in his book "Historie des Joyaux de la Couronne de France" (History of the Crown Jewels of France), published in 1889, criticized the use of the name "La Regente" for the pearl by the so-called experts who prepared the catalogue. When Prince Yusupov of Russia, who subsequently acquired the pearl, himself wrote to the French Administration of State Properties seeking clarification and more information on the celebrated pearl, he was told that nothing justified the use of the name "La Regente" for the pearl, since it was purchased by Napoleon I in 1811, unlike the "Le Regent" Diamond which was purchased by the duke d'Orleans Philippe II, the Regent of France, for the young King Louis XV from 1715 to 1723, in whose memory the diamond has been named. It was for this reason that Bernard Morel  in his book "Les Joyaux de la Couronne de France" (The Crown Jewels of France), published in 1988, referred to this pearl as "La Perle Napoleon" instead of "La Regente", a name that appeared to be in conformity with known historical facts.

 

Characteristics of the Pearl

The most expensive single pearl in the world today

The La Regente Pearl is an extraordinary pearl having a combination of all the desirable characteristics as prescribed by the GIA in valuing pearls, known as the seven pearl value factors, viz. size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality, and (matching). A combination of outstanding characteristics such as very large size, a perfect drop shape, and superior color and luster has made the La Regente Pearl, the most expensive single pearl in the world today, fetching a record price of $2.5 million (2.1 million euro, £1.6 million) at a magnificent jewels sale at Christie's in Geneva in November 2005.

 

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The largest natural regular shaped pearl in the world

The original weight of the pearl as recorded in 1811, when it was first purchased by Napoleon I for 40,000 gold francs, from the French Crown Jeweler Francois-Regnault Nitot, was equal to of 337 old grains, equivalent to 346.27 grains, making it one of the largest natural pearls in the world and the biggest natural regular shaped pearl in the world. However the present weight of the pearl has decreased to 302.68 grains, possibly due to pealing and re-polishing as certified by the Gubelin Gem Lab, sometimes during the course of its long history. Even in spite of the reduction in weight of 43.59 grains, the pearl still retains the record as the largest natural regular shaped pearl in the world, but overall it is considered as the 5th largest pearl in the world today.

 

The shape of the pearl

The shape of the pearl has been variously described as pigeon-egg shaped, oval shaped, drop shaped and pear shaped, all of which essentially refer to the same symmetrical shape. However, as described in the inventories of the French Crown Jewels of 1814, 1832 and 1875, the pearl has a flat surface at the back, a characteristic feature that helped to identify the pearl after it was purported to be lost in 1917 during the October Bolshevik revolution, but surprisingly re-appeared in 1987 at a Christie's sale in New York. Comparison of the shape of the pearl with the image of the pearl appearing in the 1887 auction catalogue also confirmed this identification. In keeping with its drop-shape the pearl was used variously throughout its history, as the centerpiece of a pearl tiara, the centerpiece of a corsage, pendant to a pearl sautoir, hair ornament, pendant to a necklace and centerpiece of a modern two-part natural pearl necklace also incorporating diamonds and sapphires.

 

Color and luster of the pearl

The pearl has a rare and desirable silvery white color which was also responsible for enhancing its value. But it is luster that brings life to a pearl producing the shine and brilliance generated by a spectacular inner glow. The luster of the La Regente Pearl is exceptional indicative of a thick layer of high quality nacre that had preserved its silvery white luster for around 200 years. The surface quality of the pearl also appears to be exceptional having an unblemished surface free of dark spots. The perfect surface texture  imparts a beautiful and homogenous luster to the pearl.

 

Early History of the Pearl

The source of the pearl

The history of the pearl prior to the purchase by Napoleon Bonaparte on September 28, 1811 is uncertain, but it was believed that the pearl was a recent discovery, acquired by the jeweler Francois Regnault Nitot with a view of executing an order for a pearl parure by his emperor, to be presented to his Queen Consort Marie Louise. The source of the pearl however is not known, but around this time the main producing areas of pearls in the world were the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea in the Middle East and the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka, the traditional pearl producing region that was the hub of the world's pearl markets for over 4,000 years. Thus the La Regente Pearl would have originated in any one of these traditional pearl producing areas, and eventually found its way to Bombay in India, the nerve center of the gem and jewelry trade in Asia at that time, from where it would have been purchased by agents who exported pearls regularly to the London and Paris markets.

 

Napoleon Bonaparte lavishes jewelry worth 6,600,000 gold francs on his second wife Marie Louise

Napoleon Bonaparte was not only a brilliant soldier but also a great patron of the arts. After he ascended the throne as the Emperor of France his court acquired an atmosphere of utmost splendor and brilliance, that resulted from the grandiose display of gems and precious stones. He lavished expensive jewels and jewelry on his Queen Consort Empress Josephine, which also included several expensive parures. But, unfortunately strains were placed on their relationship as Josephine was not able to give him a son, who would succeed him as the future emperor of Rome. Thus Napoleon was compelled to divorce Josephine  in the year 1810 and take a second wife, Marie-Louise, the eldest daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria and Maria Theresa, and the niece of Marie-Antoinette. The grandeur and extravagance of Napoleon's court reached a climax at the time of his second marriage to Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, held on 2nd April 1810. The extravagance of the occasion was described by Balzac in his book "La Paix du Menage" as follows :- "Diamonds glittered everywhere, so much so that it seemed as if the wealth of the whole world was concentrated on Paris..... never had the diamond been so sought after, never had it cost so much."

Napoleon appointed one of the most experienced jewelers in Paris at the time, Marie Etienne Nitot as the court jeweler. When Marie Etienne Nitot died in 1809, he appointed his son Francois Regnault Nitot as his successor. Both father and son helped Napoleon in reassembling the crown jewels dispersed during the French Revolution, and to build up a new collection of crown jewels. Francois Regnault Nitot was assigned the task of designing and manufacturing magnificent pieces of jewelry that included several parures which he lavished on Marie Louise at the time of her marriage and after. It is on record that Napoleon gave an expensive emerald and diamond parure to Marie-Louise as a wedding present in 1810, that was designed and manufactured by Francois Regnault Nitot. Again on March 20, 1811, when Marie-Louise gave birth to the long-awaited son and heir to the French throne, the future King of Rome, Napoleon was so overjoyed that he presented Marie-Louise with a 275-carat diamond necklace set with briolette diamonds, which is today the proud possession of the NMNH of the Smithsonian Institution. After this more parures were lavished on Marie-Louise and by the end of year 1813 Napoleon had purchased jewelry up to the value of 6,600,000 gold francs from Francois Regnault Nitot.

 

The La Regente Pearl is set as the centerpiece of a pearl tiara

One of the parures that was given to Marie-Louise was a magnificent pearl parure, whose main component was an exquisitely designed pearl tiara, set with 297 pearls, weighing 4,097 metric grains, with a value of 219,547 gold francs. The centerpiece of this pearl tiara was a large exceptional quality drop-shaped silvery white pearl, weighing 337 old grains, equivalent to 346.27 grains, and which was priced at 40,000 gold francs, a relatively low price for such an exceptional quality pearl. This was in keeping with Nitot's low-pricing policy for the royalty, that earned him great prestige and assured him a regular royal clientele.

 

The La Regente is reset on a new pearl tiara by Evrard Bapst in 1820

After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, following his defeat by the allied forces, Louis XVIII was installed as the ruler of a restored Bourbon monarchy. He ruled France until his death in 1824, except for a short period of 100 days in 1814, when Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to recapture his empire. Louis XVIII had the crown jewels, enriched by Napoleon Bonaparte, re-set by the crown jeweler Evrard Bapst. Marie-Louise's magnificent pearl parure was also re-modeled, and the large drop-shaped pearl again re-set as the centerpiece of a new tiara. The re-modeled parure was delivered to Louis XVIII's court on  July 20, 1820.

 

The new pearl tiara with the La Regente Pearl is worn by Marie-Therese, duchesse d'Angouleme, and Marie-Caroline, duchesse de Berry.

When Louis XVIII died in 1824, he was succeeded by his brother Charles Philippe, the Comte D'artois, who assumed the title Charles X. He ruled France until his abdication in 1830, in the aftermath of the July 1830 revolution. Both Louis XVIII and his brother Charles X were widowers, and during this period most of the crown jewelry including the parures were made use of by the wives of two of the sons of Charles X, Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis-Antoine, the duc d'Angouleme and the Dauphine of France, and Marie-Caroline, wife of Duc de Berry, the second son of the king, who was assassinated in 1820.

 

Proposal to dispose of the French crown jewels in 1848, that never materialized

Charles X abdicated on August 2, 1830, but two days before his abdication the antagonistic legislature had already elected Louis Philippe as the Lieutenant General of the kingdom. On August 9, 1830, Louis Philippe accepted the crown of France, and was titled Louis-Philippe, king of the French. Louis Philippe ruled France from 1830 to 1848, when he abdicated after the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy following the revolution of 1848, and the proclamation of the second republic. During the reign of Louis Philippe the crown jewels were not worn, however, in the immediate aftermath of the 1848 revolution, a proposal was made for the sale of all the crown jewels of France, which fortunately did not materialize, and the crown jewels remained in the safe custody of the treasury.

 

The La Regente Pearl is set as the centerpiece of a pearl and diamond corsage at the request of Eugenie de Montijo

Louis Napoleon, the son of Louis Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was living in exile in Britain, returned to France in 1848, and contested the presidential elections under the new republican constitution, and was elected by a landslide victory, polling 5.5 million votes, as against 2 million votes for all other candidates combined. After ruling France as President of the 2nd republic for 4 years, until 1852, he decreed a new constitution that was approved by a plebiscite, and held another plebiscite that confirmed him as the absolute ruler of the second empire of France, as Emperor Napoleon III. He married countess Eugenie de Montijo, the daughter of a Spanish nobleman in January 1853. Napoleon III gave France two decades of prosperity under a stable authoritarian government. After her marriage to Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie de Montijo, transformed most of the crown jewels of France, into new settings, to suit her own taste. Empress Eugenie got Gabriel Lemonnier, the crown jeweler to dismantle the 346.27 grain enormous pearl bought by Napoleon I in 1811, from its tiara, and re-set it as the centerpiece of a magnificent pearl and diamond corsage in the style of the early 19th century, a naturalistic style that used the language of flowers.

 

The newly designed pearl and diamond corsage based on the 1853 Lemonnier corsage

The original pearl and diamond corsage designed by Lemonnier does not exist today, but images of the corsage that appeared in the 1887 auction catalogue of the French crown jewels are available. The buyer of the La Regente Pearl after its sudden reappearance in 1987 at a Christie's auction in New York, identified the pearl as La Regente, and got it re-set in its original form, based on the image of the Lemonnier corsage. Please click here for image of the 1987 corsage.

The diamond and pearl corsage or brooch based on a  perfectly symmetrical floral design is set on silver and gold. The centerpiece of the brooch is the "La Regente Pearl" surmounted by an acanthus leaf design set with old-cut diamonds. Two more drop-shaped smaller pearls are also placed in the corsage below the "La Regente" in the same vertical line. Two other matching pairs of pearls are also placed symmetrically on either side of the vertical line of symmetry. Thus altogether there are seven drop-shaped pearls in the corsage. Two other matching large almost round shaped pearls are placed symmetrically on either side of the "La Regente." 33 other pearls are placed in symmetrical positions on the corsage, giving a total of 42 pearls including the "La Regente." Numerous other matching old rose-cut diamonds are placed in symmetrical positions on either side of the median line. This exquisitely designed corsage is a typical example of a 19th century piece of jewelry popular during the Napoleonic era.

 

The fall of Napoleon III and the escape of Empress Eugenie to England

During the brilliant court life of the second empire, Empress Eugenie made use of the  re-set French crown jewels to the maximum, to project her image as the befitting queen of a mighty emperor. She and her husband Napoleon III, were also responsible for enriching the crown jewels of France, by acquiring several newly designed pieces of jewelry. After the fall of Napoleon III following his defeat by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, Empress Eugenie and her son escaped to Britain, where they were granted asylum by Queen Victoria. She also carried with her most of her personal jewelry and perhaps some pieces of crown jewels too. But, the Lemonnier corsage remained in the safe custody of the royal treasury in France. Napoleon III joined Empress Eugenie in England after he was released by the Germans. In the meantime France had proclaimed her third republic. During the Prussian invasion of France in 1870, the crown jewels were moved to the town of Brest in northwestern France, for safe keeping. In 1872, the jewels were brought back to Paris, and kept in the safe vaults of the Ministry of Finance.

 

The French crown jewels go on display at the 1878 Paris Exhibition and at the Louvre Museum in 1884

The French crown jewels were put out on display for the first time in 1878, during the International Paris Exhibition, and came under the scrutiny of an international audience, who were truly amazed by the extravagance of the collection, put together by the monarchs of the House of Bourbon and the emperors of the House of Napoleon. Again in the year 1884, the Louvre Museum of Paris, organized an exposition of the French crown jewels, in aid of the School of Industrial Arts, which turned out to be a tremendous success.

 

The National Assembly of the third republic decides to get rid of all decadent royal symbols including the French crown jewels

The national assembly of the third republic of France, after much debate finally decided to get rid of all decadent royal symbols, including the priceless collection of crown jewels, in order to forestall any future dictator or monarch, who might try to restore the old order, inspired by these decadent symbols of royal authority. Based on the unanimous decision of the national assembly, Francois Paul Jules Grevy, President of the 3rd republic ordered the sale of the crown jewels of France by public auction, between May 12 and 23, 1887, but provision was also made for the preservation of any piece of jewelry of cultural and historic value.

Accordingly, the Administration of State Properties issued an auction catalogue depicting actual size photographs of the most important pieces, that was widely circulated around the jewelry capitals of the world, such as London, New York, Paris, St. Petersburg etc. Among them was the renowned pearl and diamond corsage with the 346.27-grain silvery white drop-shaped pearl as its centerpiece, which was for the first time referred to as the "La Regente Pearl" by the experts who prepared the catalogue. The corsage was assigned as lot number 42 in the sale.

 

The La Regente Pearl Corsage is purchased by Carl Faberge, jewelers to the Russian Crown

The auction attracted international attention and was attended by jewelry houses of international fame, such as Tiffany's, Van Cleef & Arpels, etc. and renowned Parisian jewelers like Frederic Boucheron, and Paul Bapst. Tiffany's of New York turned out to be the most successful bidder, purchasing 24 of the 69 lots that was lined up for the sale. A total of around 6 million gold francs was realized from the historic sale. At the auction Carl Faberge of Russia was represented by their agent Jacques Rossel, who was under specific instructions to bid for lot no. 42 that included the pearl and diamond corsage containing the "La Regente Pearl," and accordingly Jacques Rossel successfully bid for lot 42, the hammer being brought down at a sum of 176,000 gold francs. Before the auction Faberge had shown the auction catalogue to Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov (1827-1891), head of the Yusupov aristocratic family, which in terms of status and wealth was only second to the Imperial family of Russia. The Yusupov family also had a fabulous jewelry collection which was only second to that of the Imperial family. Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov married Countess Tatiana Alexandrovna (1828-1875), by whom he had only one daughter, Princess Zinaida Nikolaievna Yusupova (1861-1939), who succeeded him after his death, as the head of the Yusupov family. Prince Nikolai B. Yusupov was a patron of the arts and a collector and connoisseur of art works that included paintings, sculptures, musical instruments like violins, jewels and jewelry. He is reputed to have purchased the famous 35.27-carat grayish-blue diamond, the Sultan of Morocco.

 

Carl Faberge resells the "La Regente Pearl" to Prince Nikolai B. Yusupov after remounting it on a pendant

When Faberge had shown him the auction catalogue, he had expressed an interest in purchasing lot no. 42, particularly because it incorporated the largest regular shaped pearl in the world, the 346.27-grain silvery white drop shaped pearl, which was known as the "La Regente Pearl." Prince Nikolai B. Yusupov's intention was to purchase the enormous pearl and give it as a gift to his only daughter and successor Princess Zinaida.

Princess Zinaida Yusupov wearing the La Pelegrina Pearl as a head ornament surmounted by the La Regente Pearl

Princess Zinaida Yusupov wearing the La Pelegrina Pearl as a head ornament surmounted by the La Regente Pearl

After purchasing the corsage, Faberge dismounted the "La Regente Pearl" from its setting, and remounted it as the centerpiece of a pendant which also included an Imperial Russian Crown set with diamonds, and sold it to Prince Nikolai B. Yusupov. Around this time the corsage had gone out of fashion. Faberge used the remaining parts of the corsage, including pearls and diamonds to turn out other jewels.

Prince Nikolai B. Yusupov gave the "La Regente Pearl" to Princess Zinaida, who wore it as a pendant to a long pearl sautoir, and sometimes as a head ornament surmounting the "La Pelegrina Pearl."

 

princess-zinaida-yusupov-of-russia-wearing-the-pearl-sautoir-with-the-la-regente-pearl

Princess Zinaida Yusupov of Russia wearing the pearl sautoir with the la-regente pearl

 

Princess Zinaida gives the "La Regente Pearl" to her son Prince Felix, who gifts it to his bride Princess Irina

Princess Zinaida (1861-1939) who was considered a legendary beauty married Count Felixovich Sumarokov (1856-1928), who was appointed the Governor General of Moscow in 1914, and by whom she had a son, Prince Felix Yusupov II. Princess Zinaida gave the "La Regente Pearl" to her son, in anticipation of his marriage in 1914 to Princess Irina, a granddaughter of Czar Alexander III, and a niece of Czar Nicholas II, in 1914. The Prince gave the magnificent pearl as a wedding gift to his bride Princess Irina Alexandrovna.

 

Prince Felix Yusupov flees Russia with some of his precious belongings but leaves behind the "La Regente Pearl" hidden inside a wall of the Yusupov Palace

Prince Felix Yusupov, the last in line of the Yusupov aristocratic family, became notorious for his involvement in the murder of Rasputin, the mad monk, just before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The Prince who was found guilty was exiled to the Crimea, but returned to St. Petersburg in 1917, soon after the February uprisings, and found the city in a state of chaos and disorder. He decided to leave Russia immediately to the safety of a neighboring European country. He collected some of his most precious belongings, that included some valuable paintings, a collection of expensive pearl jewelry that also included the "La Pelegrina Pearl," some famous diamonds that included the "Sultan of Morocco diamond," the "Polar Star diamond," and the "Ram's Head diamond," and Marie Antoinette's diamond ear pendants. He hid the rest of the fabulous collection of the Yusupov jewelry that included the "La Regente Pearl" in a wall of the Yusupov Palace at St. Petersburg, hoping one day to return to Russia, when the situation normalized. He then left Russia in August 1917 and settled down in Paris.

 

The Bolsheviks discover the hidden jewelry in the Yusupov Palace, at St. Petersburg

In the immediate aftermath of the October Bolshevik Revolution, the abandoned palaces of the Imperial and aristocratic families were meticulously searched for valuable items like jewelry, that could have been hidden in the palaces by members of these families, before attempting a quick get away from the approaching Bolshevik cadres. The Bolsheviks discovered the jewelry items hidden inside the wall of the Yusupov Palace. They laid out all the jewels on a table, photographed them and prepared an inventory of all the Yusupov jewels.

 

The jewels of the Russian Crown and the aristocratic families were partly sold outright, partly pledged or partly preserved as items of historical and cultural importance

It is not known exactly what happened to the Yusupov jewels after this. Perhaps they were pooled together with the Russian Crown Jewels that were discovered in the underground vaults of the Kremlin in the 1920s, where they were transferred for safe keeping from the vaults of the diamond chamber in the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg, just before the onset of World War I in 1914. The crown jewels discovered in 1922, were stored in nine huge strong boxes, in the recesses of the Moscow Armory Hall. The Communist Government of Russia headed by V. I. Lenin, ordered the inventorying and photographing of all the crown jewels. The task that took almost 4 months was conducted by five leading jewelers of Russia, under the guidance and supervision of renowned mineralogist Prof. A. E. Fersman, assisted by the director of the Hermitage Museum S. N. Troinitzky and a renowned art critic and painter A. N. Benois. After finishing its work the committee of jewelry experts published an illustrated inventory in 1925, that was titled "Russia's Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones."

 

Purchase of a significant part of the Russian Crown Jewels dating from the 18th century by a consortium of British and American buyers

After the October Bolshevik Revolution, the young Russian Socialist Republic founded by V. I. Lenin was running short of funds and were forced to look for ways and means of raising funds in the international financial markets. One of the desperate measures adopted by the new government was the outright sale of a significant part of the Russian Crown Jewels, which perhaps also included the Yusupov jewels collection, which was only second to the crown jewel collection in terms of quantity, quality and monetary value. A consortium of British and American buyers whose identity had been withheld were the first to benefit from the sales of the Russian Crown Jewels. Subsequently 119 pieces of the crown jewels purchased by this syndicate were offered for sale at a Christie's auction held in London on March 16, 1927, and was snapped up by museums and collectors of jewels from around the world. This unique auction by Christie's was titled "An Important Assemblage of Magnificent Jewelry, mostly dating from the 18th century, which formed part of the Russian State Jewels."

Thus, even though we do not have a detailed breakdown of all the Russian Crown Jewels sold at this auction, the title of the auction is a clear indication of the significance of the items sold, which were mostly jewels originating from the 18th century. This period in the history of Russia was one of its greatest periods, that saw the reign of three of the greatest Romanov monarchs, Peter I the Great (1682-1725), Elizabeth (1741-1761) and Catherine II the Great (1762-1796). These monarchs, besides their contribution to the greatness of the Russian empire, were also great patrons of the art, and collectors and connoisseurs of jewels and jewelry. In fact the initiation of the Russian Crown Jewels collection is attributed to Peter I the Great, who is credited with establishing the Diamond Chamber in the Winter Palace of St. Petersburg in 1719, to house the Russian Crown Jewels that were the property of the Russian State, as distinct from the personal jewels of the Romanov rulers. He further decreed that all future Romanov rulers should leave a certain number of pieces to the Russian State, for the greater glory of the Russian Empire. Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine II the Great, also left a significant quantity of jewels and jewelry to the Russian State.

 

Pledging of part of the Russian Crown Jewels to secure a loan from the Irish Republic

In the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution the young Russian Republic also sought a loan of $25,000 from the Irish Republic using part of the Russian Crown Jewels as collateral. The transaction took place in New York City, between Ludwig Martens, the head of the Soviet Bureau, who was the Soviet Ambassador to America and T. D. Harry Boland, the Irish Ambassador to the United States. When Boland returned to Ireland after his diplomatic assignment, he kept the crown jewels in the house of his mother Kathleen Boland O'Donovan, in the city of Dublin, during the period of the Irish War of Independance. Boland who fought on the side of the Irish Republicns, left clear instructions with his mother that the Russian Crown Jewels should be left hidden from the Irish Free State, until the return to power of the Irish Republicans. Boland died during the Battle of Dublin, and Kathleen Boland returned the Russian Crown Jewels to the Irish Government only in 1938, when the country was under the rule of de Valera, a republican. The Russian Crown Jewels were then placed in a safe vault in the government treasury, and then forgotten for the next 10 years, until 1948.

In the year 1948, the jewels were rediscovered at the time of the government led by John A. Costello. A proposal was put forward for the sale of the crown jewels by public auction in London. While the government of Ireland was considering the merits of this proposal, legal opinion was sort on status of the crown jewels. In the meantime negotiations were also conducted with the Ambassador of the Soviet Union to the Irish Republic, and the Government of Ireland finally decided that the Russian Crown Jewels rightfully belonged to the Soviet Union being an integral part of its great cultural heritage, and made preparations for their return to the rightful owners. As part of the deal that was negotiated, the Soviet Union paid back the sum of $25,000 that was obtained as loan from the Irish Government in 1920, in respect of which the crown jewels were left as collateral. Finally in the year 1950, after a period of 30 years, the pledged crown jewels of Russia returned to Moscow and became part of the State Diamond Fund created after the revolution.

 

New York Times report of January 16, 1922 relevant to the pledging of some of the Russian Crown Jewels

Two newspaper reports relevant to the Russian Crown Jewels appeared in the New York Times, of January 16, 1922. According to one report which originated from the New York Times correspondent in Berlin, the Crown Jewels of Russia had been pawned to one Hugo Stinnes, for 60% of their estimated value, an amount that had been kept secret. Stinnes was reported to have received the jewels from  a Russian representative in Berlin. The report goes on to give details of history of a particular famous diamond known as the Orloff diamond valued at £240,000 which had adorned the Imperial scepter, and which was said to be among the jewels pledged. This is the second credible report of the pawning of the Russia Crown Jewels, and obviously refers to only a part of the crown jewels, other parts being pledged to the Government of the Republic of Ireland or sold outright to a syndicate of British and American buyers.

 

A second report appearing on the same issue of the New York Times refers to the saving of some crown jewels by Prince Felix Yusupoff

According to this report appearing immediately after the above news item, part of the Russian Crown Jewels, which obviously refers to the Yusupoff collection, that included the famous black pearl necklace, valued at £80,000,  was saved by Prince Yusupoff, the slayer of Rusputin. The report also refers to the loss of some jewels valued at £15,000 from his flat in the West End when he visited  London, about two years ago, and the burial of many jewels in his palace at St. Petersburg in Russia, which he could not carry along with him in his hurried escape from Russia, after the revolution.

 

Modern History of the La Regente Pearl

The La Regente Pearl comes up for auction at Christie's New York in 1987

The history of the La Regente Pearl after the October Bolshevik Revolution is uncertain. Without any doubt the pendant containing the La Regente Pearl, that also incorporated the Romanov coat-of-arms, the Imperial Russian Crown, set with diamonds, was sold by the Bolsheviks as described earlier. But, the period during which the pendant was sold, and the persons who acquired the pendant are not known. However, it is now clear that the pendant containing the pearl had been acquired by an anonymous family in 1950, and had remained with them until 1987, when it appeared at a Christie's auction in New York, on June 16, 1987, being sold as lot no. 385. The family who owned the pearl for 37 years, was not aware of its historical provenance, as evident from the presentation of the pearl in the auction catalogue, which only mentioned its Russian origin, but without giving the name or weight of the pearl. The evidence for the Russian provenance was the Imperial Russian Crown, incorporated in the pendant. However, the pendant itself was suspended from a delicate tour-de-cou, set with 18 brilliant-cut colored diamonds.

 

The La Regente Pearl is identified by the buyer of the pearl in 1987

The buyer of the 302.68-grain pearl at the Christie's auction in New York in 1987, was the first to identify the La Regente Pearl after its disappearance following the October revolution. The factors that helped him identify the pearl are as follows :-

1) The incorporation of the Imperial Russian Crown in the pendant that carried the enormous pearl.

2) The general shape of the pearl as compared with images of the pearl presented in the auction catalogue of 1887.

3) A flat surface at the back of the pearl which is consistent with the description of the pearl in the inventories of the French Crown Jewels of 1814, 1832 and 1875.

4) Evidence of peeling of the pearl as certified by the Gubelin Gem Lab, which accounts for the loss of 43.59 grains from the original weight of 346.27 grains, giving a new weight of 302.68 grains.

 

The buyer of the La Regente Pearl in 1987 resets it in a pearl and diamond corsage similar in design to the 1853 Lemonier corsage

The anonymous buyer of the La Regente Pearl in 1987, after its identification, and being very well aware about its historical provenance, decided to reset the famous pearl in a diamond and pearl corsage, in accordance with the same design executed by Gabriel Lemonier, the crown jeweler, for Empress Eugenie de Montijo in 1853. Please refer to the photograph above for the 1987 corsage setting.

 

The La Regente Pearl mounted in its corsage is again sold in 1988 at Christie's Geneva

The anonymous buyer of the La Regente Pearl in 1987, resold the pearl again in 1988. This time the sale was at a Christie's auction in Geneva, held on May 12, 1988, and fetched a record price of $860,000. Apparently, the resetting of the pearl in accordance with its ancient design, seem to have had its desired effect, boosting the value of the pearl. The pearl was for the first time auctioned under the name "La Regente" after its loss following the Bolshevik revolution, and was apparently purchased by an anonymous Middle Eastern family.

The new owners of the renowned pearl, apparently not satisfied with the mid-19th century corsage setting of the pearl, again reset it, as the centerpiece of an elaborate five-stranded pearl necklace, that also incorporated diamonds and blue sapphires. The modern natural pearl necklace was made of two parts, a lower 5-stranded natural pearl necklace, suspended from an elaborate blue sapphire, diamond and pearl breast-piece, covering the entire bodice, set with the "La Regente" at its center. This elaborate necklace that probably belonged to an oil-sheik of the Middle East, consisted of 2,500 carats of pearls, and a thousand carats of diamonds and sapphires, and had an estimated value of $1.5 - 2.0 million.

 

la-regente-pearl-mounted-on-a-boucheron-necklace-blue-sapphires-diamonds-and-pearls

© Christie's

La Regente Pearl mounted on a modern pearl, sapphire and diamond necklace

The La Regente Pearl is sold at an auction at Christie's Geneva, in 2005 for a record sum of $2.5 million

The Middle Eastern family who acquired the "La Regente Pearl"  in 1988, and modified its setting, put it up for auction at a magnificent jewels sale   of Christie's held in Geneva, on November 16, 2005. The pre-sale estimate of the "La Regente Pearl" alone without the necklace was placed between $500,000 to $800,000, and the value of the pearl, sapphire and diamond necklace was estimated between $1.5 - 2.0 million. However the pearl realized a value beyond everybody's expectations, almost three times the highest estimate placed on it before the auctions. The pearl sold for 3.27 million francs, equivalent to $2.5 million or £1.6 million or 2.1 million euros. This represents the highest price ever realized by a single pearl  at an auction in the world, and thus the "La Regente Pearl" which holds the position as the 5th largest pearl in the world, has become the most expensive in history. The pearl sold by the anonymous Middle Eastern family was purchased by an anonymous buyer in Geneva. believed to be of Asian origin. The auction which featured 280 lots netted a total of $38.5 million, and the most expensive jewel in the collection, was a crown set with diamonds that sold for $6.1 million.

The Director of Christie's, Switzerland, Eric Valdieu, said after the historic auction, "We would never have achieved the price for the pearl if it had  not had Napoleonic provenance."

You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)

  Back to Famous Pearls

Related :-

1) Regent Diamond

2) Emerald and Diamond Parure of Marie Louise Empress of France

3) Pearl of Allah/ Pearl of Lao Tzu

4) Arco Valley Pearl

5) La Pelegrina Pearl

6) La Peregrina Pearl

 

References

1.Bangkok Gems and Jewelry - Thailand's International Journal of the Gem & Jewelry Industry - Vol. 19 No. 3 - October 2005.    
2.Famous Pearls And Collections - The Book of the Pearl - Kunz  
3.Crown Jewels to go under the hammer - Independent, The (London), October 12, 2005.
4.La Regente - La Perle Napoleon - Les Joyaux de la Couronne de France - Bernard Morel (1988)  
5.Imperial Crown of Russia - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
6.Russian Crown Jewels Pledged to Stinnes, pawned for 60% of value, Berlin hears - The New York Times, Jan. 16, 1922
7.Encyclopaedia Britannica - 2006   

 


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