The Jewels in the Crowns: Chaumet and its Fabulous History

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The Jewels in the Crowns: Chaumet and its Fabulous History
The first arrondissement on the Seine’s Right Bank is the very heart of Paris, France. It is the city’s most singularly elegant and sophisticated district, which embraces the Louvre, the Palais Royal, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Place Vendôme. Built for the court of Louis XIV, the Place Vendôme forms a classically designed, octagonal square symbolizing absolute political power. Today, the Ritz and the world’s great jewelry houses– the modern epitome of wealth– have turned the Place Vendôme into a continuous stream of window displays showcasing the ultimate in luxury goods. Chaumet, one of the oldest jewelry houses in Europe, has been situated at 12 Place Vendôme since 1907. Marie-Étienne Nitot (1750-1809) was the original founder of Chaumet. In 1780, after apprenticing to the official court jeweler of King Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Antoinette, he opened La Bijouterie Nitot. Over the next nine years he judiciously accumulated an aristocratic clientele, which included the patronage of Joséphine de Beauharnais, future wife to Napoléon Bonaparte. During the French Revolution of 1789-1799, Napoléon rose steadily through the ranks of the French armed forces, and in 1796, two days before the commencement of his Italian military campaign, he married Nitot’s long-time patron, Joséphine. In 1799 Napoléon seized political power in a coup d’état. In 1802, Nitot, who was then working with his son, François-Regnault (1779-1853), was appointed to create Napoleon’s Consular Sword, into the hilt of which he set the legendary, 141-carat Regent Diamond. This extraordinary object was discovered in 1698, weighing 410 carats. Its first cut in 1704 resulted in the creation of a 141-carat gemstone which was purchased by Louis XV, the remainder later sold to Russia’s Peter the Great. In 1722 this stunning diamond was set into the coronation crown of Louis XV, where it remained until 1775. It was then removed and re-set into a new crown for the coronation of Louis XVI. Subsequently removed from this crown, it found its way onto a hat worn by Marie Antoinette. Remarkably, this same stone was stolen during the French Revolution and rediscovered among roof timbers in a Paris attic. In 1802 Nitot and François-Regnault were named official jewelers of Napoléon, and remained so through the Napoleonic periods of The Consulate and The Empire. Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804. To get a sense of the splendor of the event, one must view the painting The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine, by Jacques-Louis David, who was commissioned to capture the moment for posterity, its grandeur evoking Napoléon’s intention. Marie-Étienne Nitot died at the age of 59 in 1809 and was succeeded in the business by his son. The following year Napoléon’s marriage to Josephine was dissolved due to a lack of male heirs, and he married Austrian Princess Marie-Louise d’Autriche. In celebration of the marriage, Napoléon placed an order for two stunning parures (sets of jewels) to be worn together. One parure consisted of a set containing close to 400 rubies and more than 6,000 diamonds. The other parure was comprised largely of emeralds and diamonds, including a splendid crown adorned with 22 large emeralds, 57 small emeralds, 66 rose-cut diamonds, and 1,002 brilliants. Both parures were given to Marie-Louise in 1811. These pieces reveal an exquisite artisanship that was unparalleled at the time. It is unfortunate that the crown was later sold by descendants of Marie-Louise to the jewelry company Van Cleef & Arpels, which removed the emeralds for re-setting in other pieces and replaced them with turquoise. The refurbished crown was eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution. In March of that same year, Marie-Louise gave birth to a son and heir, and Napoleon commissioned for her a beautiful 275-carat diamond briolette necklace, featuring an elongated pear-shaped gemstone cut with facets. The necklace was so costly it equalled the personal annual household budget of the Empress (over 370,000 French francs), the equivalent of €56,500.00 today. The patronage of Napoléon raised Nitot’s firm into heights of success Marie-Étienne likely never imagined. When Napoléon’s Empire fell in 1815 and he was exiled from France, François Regnault, a Royalist, sold the jewelry house to his foreman, Jean-Baptiste Fossin (1786-1848). For much of the remaining 19th century, Fossin and his son, Jules, created jewelry that reflected the romanticism of the age inspired by the Italian Renaissance. They continued to produce stunning adornments for the elite as well as the crown, including King Louis XVIII and his brother, Charles X, who succeeded Louis in 1824. After the French Revolution of 1848, the same year that Jean-Baptiste died, Jules established a boutique and workshop in London managed by Jean-Valentin Morel (1794-1860), and assisted by his son Prosper. They created jewelry for an equally elite clientele in London, including Queen Victoria….

Lead photo credit : Chaumet's Joséphine Collection. Photo: Chaumet

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.


  • Sue Aran
    2020-08-09 05:50:01
    Sue Aran
    Hello Bhavik, I have no idea who the sons/daughters of Pierre and Jacques are. I imagine they've been kept out of the press. Thanks for reading the article, Sue


  • Bhavik Sarkar
    2020-08-05 06:19:36
    Bhavik Sarkar
    Hello, That is an interesting read. I would like to know who are the sons/daughters of Jacques and Pierre.