Chaumet’s Historic Jewels Weaves a Tale of Powerful Women, Royal Intrigue, and Unsolved Mystery
Chaumet’s tiara showcase, weaves the tale of the extravagance and tragedies of history’s past.
This summer, over two centuries of regal extravagance are on display in the subterranean halls of Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum, where tales of love, intrigue, and imperial power are the subject of an exhibition titled “Chaumet in Majesty: Jewels of Sovereigns Since 1780.”
Chaumet gathered 250 pieces of jewelry, paintings, and artifacts to tell the fascinating stories behind some of the ornaments that the Parisian house has produced since its founding in 1780, and the sovereigns who owned them.
“The principal focus of the show is women of power and the tiaras they wore as witnesses of their destinies,” said Jean-Marc Mansvelt, chief executive of Chaumet.
Tiaras are a specialty of Chaumet. Of the 50 splendid examples presented in the show, a few have vanished in the chaotic throes of history. Others, guarded in private collections until now, are shrouded in mystery. And some were simply remodeled. Whatever their historical trajectory, the tiaras’ restored magnificence is enhanced by the artistic scenography seen at Chaumet’s tiara showcase.
One of the more spectacular tiaras on view—the “Sun Tiara”—once belonged to Princess Irina Alexandrovna Romanova, a relative of Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia. Princess Irina was married to Felix Yusupov, whose exploits included plotting the murder of the court advisor, Rasputin. Before going into exile, the Yusupovs hid their jewels inside a wall of their home in Moscow when they fled the country after the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1925, a museum employee stumbled upon the Yusupovs’ treasure trove. After they were found, they were declared state property, broken up, and sold off.
That is how the Sun Tiara disappeared, its delicate design on view for all to see in a 1914 photograph of the princess before all traces of its former splendor were lost. “The very nature of jewelry is such that it is transformable,” said Mansvelt, explaining that historic pieces are often altered or taken apart over time.
Much of that research was conducted by Chaumet’s team of curators, royal-history expert Stéphane Bern, and jewelry historian Christophe Vachaudez, who were able to secure loans for the show from 16 museums and some 50 private collections, including that of Prince Albert II of Monaco, the patron of the exhibition.
The show also explores various symbolic uses of the tiara throughout history, including as an instrument of political power by Joséphine and Marie Louise, the successive wives of Napoleon. But tiaras are not just relics of the past—many continue to be worn today by members of European aristocratic families. The “Diadème Art Deco,” from the “Grand Ducal” collection, is a strikingly modern piece. Worn as a headband featuring a stunning 45-carat central emerald, the tiara sits low on the forehead, and is still used today by the Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg.
Other tiaras in the exhibition, meanwhile, have hazy and tortuous backstories that lend them an enigmatic air. The most valuable piece, for instance, was first commissioned around 1900 by Count Guido Henckel von Dennersmarck, a German aristocrat. Its 11 pear-shaped emeralds are believed to have once belonged to Empress Eugenie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III, who was forced to sell her jewels when she went into exile. Today, the tiara and its mesmerizing emeralds belong to the royal family of Qatar.
Source: Artnet News