The engraved eternity band given to Vivien Leigh by Laurence Olivier, nestling among two important bow brooches.  The brooch on the left is the most valuable item in the sale, estimated to fetch £35,000-£40,000.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier shorty after their marriage.  Their feelings for each other are plainly written on their faces.

To my mind, Vivien Leigh was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen.  Her romance and marriage to Laurence Olivier fascinated the public- they had left their respective spouses for each other and the electric talent and good looks of each of them inadvertently made them one of the early power couples of showbusiness.

Vivian Mary Hartley was born in India in 1913.  She always wanted to become a great actress.  She married barrister Leigh Holman in 1933 and started taking on small film roles from then on, her agent having persuaded her to change her name to Vivien Leigh, which was thought to be more theatrical.  In 1935, she was cast in the lead for a play called ‘The Mask of Virtue’, for which she received rave reviews and became an overnight success in England.  In the audience had been the actor Laurence Olivier, already a famous actor in his own right.  She left Leigh Holman, and Laurence his wife the actress Jill Esmond, in 1937.

During this time, the race for the role of Scalett O’Hara was hotting up and Vivien was obsessed with getting the role, despite being considered by most to be a hopeless outsider due to her being relatively unknown in the United States.  She flew to the States to meet David Selznick, the director, who had already started filming.  Film legend has it that she walked in on the set while filming the burning of Atlanta and he was instantly captivated.  Vivien, as we know, won the role and was awarded the Academy Award for her portrayal of Scarlett.

Vivien Leigh's 19th century diamond bow brooch with detachable tassel.  

Vivien's important 19th century blue enamel, gold and diamond fob watch.

Vivien's important 19th century blue enamel, gold and diamond fob watch.

Vivien continued to work to critical acclaim, both on the stage and the screen.  Her second Academy Award was to come from her role as the troubled Blanche DuBois in the 1951 film version of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.  Sadly, her life was blighted by manic depression and her role of Blanche exacerbated it.  Laurence did not know how to cope with it and the couple divorced in 1960.  Vivien found love again with the actor Jack Merivale but Vivien died in 1967 at the age of only 53.

When she was well, Vivien was known to be a highly cultured woman with immaculate taste.  Her clothes and houses were always the last degree of elegance without seeming contrived.  As a child of Victorian parents, her taste in jewellery could be best described as ‘restrained British’, with a few very good pieces and a fondness for sentimental jewellery.  The most important piece is undoubtedly a 19th century bow brooch set with old cut diamonds, with a detachable diamond tassel.  There are also several pairs of earrings set with green stones such as jade and emeralds, no doubt worn to highlight her extraordinary green eyes.

Her charm bracelet is surely undervalued at £1000-£1500 and includes a gold charm of a ‘Gone With the Wind’, inscribed ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on the inside.  A tangible testament to the passionate love they enjoyed is the engraved gold band, inscribed ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally’.

Vivien Leigh's charm bracelet marking important milestones in her life.  The gold 'Gone With the Wind' book charm opens to reveal the names 'Scarlett' and 'Vivien' engraved inside.

‘Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection’ is open to viewing at Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London, 22nd-25th September 2017.  The auction will be held on the 26th September 2017. 


The emerald and diamond tiara made for the Duchesse d'Angouleme, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's only surviving child and married to the heir to the throne.  It was sold in 1887 and mysteriously reappeared in the 1960s, its provenance forgotten.  it is now on display at the Louvre.

By 1875, the Third Republic was established in France- it was the most radical sitting government since that of the Terror established after 1789 and agitations by extreme right wing monarchists gunning for another Restoration only served to further polarise French society.  In the National Assembly, the cry of “without a crown, no need for a king” began to gain currency.

This ruby brooch is all that remains of the Empress Marie Louise's splendid diamond parure.

Although the plan took some time to get off the ground, the sale was finally held in the Pavilion de Flore in the Louvre, on 12th-23rd May 1887.  Everything was put up for sale.  The surviving historic crowns were stripped of their stones, to be replaced with glass and sent to museums as historical curiosities.  A few important stones, (such as the Cote de Bretagne spinel which had been part of the collection since the late Middle Ages) were arbitrarily held back and displayed in the Museum of Natural History.  Likewise, the same happened to some of the liturgical instruments and vestments which were sent to cathedrals and abbeys throughout the country. 

The sale inevitably attracted enormous interest- it was well attended by jewellers from all over the world, desperate to buy legendary gems, some on their own initiative and others on the instructions of rich patrons.  The biggest winner was the American jewellers Tiffany and Co, who managed to acquire 24 of the 69 lots.  Through them, some of the pieces made their way to some of the new millionaires of America’s Gilded Age.  Van Cleef and Arpels acquired the Empress Josephine’s diamond diadem and Carl Faberge bought La Regente pearl, which he went on to sell to the fabulously rich Youssoupovs in his native Russia.  The eighteen Mazarin diamonds, bequeathed to Louis XIV by his Cardinal First Minister, were mostly dispersed.

A contemporary illustration of the French Crown Jewels as displayed prior to their sale in 1887.  Only the pearl tiara and bow brooch survive.  The large pearl at the centre of the huge brooch in the middle is the Regente pearl- it was acquired by Faberge and sold to the Youssoupovs.

Most of the most important pieces were broken up and reset as fashion demanded- a great loss to the jewellery world, especially the Empress Eugenie’s fantastic yet realistic flower and bow brooch stomachers, which were the forerunner of what was to become known as the Garland Style.  A few, however, have survived.  The Empress Eugenie’s fabled pearl and diamond diadem was bought by the Thurn und Taxis family.  The Duchesse d’Angouleme’s emerald and diamond tiara disappeared, to be rediscovered in the 1960s with its provenance forgotten.  Her ruby and diamond bracelets survived intact but the rest of the marvellous parure is broken up, bar the tiara, which is thought to be owned by the Niarchos family, although this is unconfirmed.

Marie Antoinette's pearls in a 19th century setting.  She entrusted them to the care of Lady Sutherland who never got a chance to return them.

Marie Anotoinette's diamond eardrops on display at the Smithsonian.

Occasionally, stones from the 1792 theft and from the contents of Marie Antoinette’s jewel case entrusted to friends ahead of her failed escape in 1791 pop up now and again.  Some of these stones are now famously housed in the Smythsonian Institute in Washington D.C.  These include the ocean coloured Hope Diamond and Marie Antoinette’s huge drop diamond earrings.  They have also been bequeathed pieces such as the Empress Josephine’s diamond necklace, as well as Marie Louise’s diadem.  This has had its original emeralds replaced with turquoises- when the piece passed through the hands of Van Cleef and Arpels in the 1960s they removed the emeralds and sold them piecemeal, leaving the tiara a shadow of its former glory. 

Marie Antoinette’s fabled pearls, which she had entrusted to Lady Sutherland, passed through that family by descent- it came up for auction in 2007 and failed to sell.  Another strand of pearls though, which had also belonged to the doomed queen and which had been bought by Barbara Hutton, fetched $1.47 million when it was auctioned in 1999.  With the demand for natural pearls soaring, goodness knows what it is worth today.

Even by contemporary assessments, the 1887 sale was not a success- it failed to bring in the expected revenues and in fact temporarily depressed the market by flooding it with so many important stones.  The two important tiaras mentioned earlier, along with the ruby bracelets have been re-acquired for the French Nation by the subsequent Republics.  They continue to claw back what they can, not always successfully, and always at a far higher cost than that which they received.  These pieces are on permanent display at the Galerie d’Apollon in the Louvre. 

The Empress Marie Louise's once magnificent diadem.  The stones were removed by Van Cleef and Arpels in the 1960s and sold piecemeal.  The tiara was bought by Marjorie Merriweather Post, who bequeathed it to the Smithsonian Institute.


The Empress Eugenie's currant diamond brooch, one of the very few surviving from a set of 30.

The Empress Eugenie by Winterhalter.  Her love of clothes and jewellery came to define the look of the Second Empire.

The abdication of Charles X in 1830 swept the senior branch of the Bourbons away from the French throne for ever, giving way to the junior Orleans branch of the family.  It was headed by the dreary Louis Philippe, who was proclaimed King of the French and who had married the equally uninspiring Amelie of the Two Sicilies.  King Louis Philippe and Queen Amelie had none of the panache required to pull off the magnificent personas demanded by the French.  Parsimonious by nature, this quality was initially admired in the Citizen King (as he was nicknamed), but began to grate on the French after a bit.  His contribution to the Crown Jewels and to the arts in general was negligible at best, destructive at worst.  At Versailles, he ripped out hundreds of beautiful 18th century apartments in the courtiers’ wings, the cream of French interior design and replaced them with long, boring picture galleries. 

Louis Philippe was sent packing in 1848 and replaced with the Second Republic, which by 1853 had become the Second Empire, personified in Napoleon III (nephew of the first Napoleon).  The new Emperor had the sense not to re-enact the defunct ceremonies and etiquette of the Ancien Regime and he was proclaimed, not crowned.  Although physically uninspiring, he was a dynamic figure, attractive to women and full of vision.  Under his direction, the French economy was rebuilt and flourished and beautiful Paris as we know it today was largely thanks to him.  He married the dazzling Eugenie de Montijo- he showered her with jewels and she was a worthy leader of the magnificence that was the Second Empire. 

The pearl and diamond diadem of the Empress Eugenie by Lemmonier.  It passed into the Thurn und Taxis family and is now back at the Louvre.

The Empress Eugenie enjoyed wearing jewels and was a leader of fashion- she wore the Crown Jewels with gusto, both the surviving pieces and the new ones created using spectacular stones from the treasury.  She and her husband continued to patronise Bapst et Fils, as the Bourbons had done, whilst also commissioning from Gabriel Lemonnier some of the more extravagant creations.  She gave some of the up and coming jewellers such as Pierre Cartier and Frederic Boucheron their big breaks, as well as talented couturiers such as Charles Worth.  Eugenie was an admirer of Marie Antoinette and adapted much of her style to her own taste.  The combination of 18th century motifs, talented jewellers and couturiers was a match made in fashion heaven and came to define the look of the Second Empire.

The Empress Eugenie's diamond hair comb and star and flower hair pins.  Examples of jewellery that was sold and broken up after the great sale of the French Crown Jewels in 1887.

Some of the great jewels of all time were made during this period.  Most notable are the pearl and diamond tiara made by Lemonnier, created out of one of the Empress Josephine’s pearl and diamond parures.  It is composed of extravagant swags of pearls and diamonds and was topped by two of the great pearls of history, La Regente and La Perle Napoleon.  Another notable tiara was an imposing Greek meander tiara created out of the diamonds from Napoleon I’s sword.

The Empress Eugenie's corsage bow brooch by Bapst, reflecting her love of the 18th century. 

The frothy creations and crinolines of Worth were the perfect canvas for the Empress’ taste.  She favoured large bow brooches and stomachers ‘a la Marie Antoinette’, but also had a penchant for the rediscovered naturalism of the 19th century.  Stone cutting techniques were improving, with diamonds benefitting the most.  The Empress adored large pieces fashioned in the shape of roses, feathers and vine leaves all mass set with diamonds sparkling with new found fire.  The most remarkable of these was a set of 30 brooches in the shape of highly naturalistic currant leaves, suspending rows of graduated diamonds which represented boughs heavy with currants.  One of these still survives and is the size of a hand.

The good life came to an end for the Bonapartes and the Second Empire in 1871 following the defeat of France during the Franco-Prussian War.  They retreated to dignified exile in England, where Napoleon III died shortly after in 1873.  His wife was to outlive him by nearly 50 years, dying in Spain in 1920 aged 94.  She had had the good taste, unlike her predecessor Marie Louise, to leave behind in Paris all the jewellery that had been paid for by the State.  It may have been elegant behaviour, but it was ultimately to prove disastrous for one of the greatest jewellery collections the world has ever seen.


The reactionary Charles X of France dressed in Coronation finery.  Note the magnificent diamond crown made for his sacre by Bapst on a cushion next to him.

The French Revolution which began in 1789 unleashed a torrent of terror and destruction which swept everything before it, eventually even consuming some of its creators.  It was inevitable that the Crown Jewels would suffer and in 1793, in the midst of the general chaos engulfing Paris the jewels were stolen from the Garde Meuble, or State Treasury, whence the jewels had been taken to for safekeeping.

It was to be the one of the great heists of history.  The thieves made off with most of the Coronation regalia and these were never seen again- from a historical viewpoint this was an almost incalculable loss, as these included the medieval sceptre of Charles V, the ivory topped Hand of Justice and the crown of Charlemagne itself.  Also lost were some of the great pieces of gold and silversmithing of the medieval age: chalices, orbs and assorted relics, most of which were probably melted down for their metal value.  The thieves also managed to get away with some of the great stones collected by the French kings through the ages: the Cote de Bretagne spinel, the 67 carat French Blue diamond, the 140 carat Regent diamond, the 55 carat Sancy diamond and the 20 carat pink Hortense diamond.  Some of these stones were recovered a year later, some went on to live colourful histories- but the cultural damage had been done.

Some of the Bourbon’s personal jewellery had already been smuggled out of France in 1791 ahead of the Royal Family’s ill-fated attempt to escape the country.  Some pieces were entrusted to Lady Sutherland, wife of the British Ambassador as her bags would not be checked due to diplomatic immunity.  The rest were sent on to Belgium with M. Leonard, Marie Antoinette’s effeminate, highly strung hairdresser, who was to meet up with the Queen in Brussels.  When the Queen failed to appear, M. Leonard entrusted the jewel casket to an army officer, the contents of which were to appear individually all over Europe in the coming decades. 

Queen Sonja of Norway wears the Empress Josephine's emerald tiara.  It passed to her husband's family through inheritance and thence descent.

The Empress Josephine's diamond coronation tiara.

As his power and Imperial aspirations grew in the aftermath of the Revolution, Napoleon not only tried to reverse the damage but sought to increase the magnificence of the French Crown Jewels.  An inventory taken in 1791 showed that the jewels comprised of just under 10,000 stones- by 1814 the collection had swollen to 65,000 stones.  Napoleon understood better than anyone the power of imagery and created for himself and Josephine splendid new regalia which was a marvellous mixture of his vision of Roman power coupled with medieval insignia designed to give him monarchic legitimacy.  A casual look at his Coronation picture by David gives a good insight to some of the jewellery masterpieces he commissioned, not just himself but his family.  The Hortense pink diamond, for example, derives its name from Hortense de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepdaughter and for a time Queen of Holland. 

Detail of the Empress Josephine at her coronation.  Note how low the tiara sits on her brow according to fashion.  Note also the diamond comb and huge earrings.

Napoleon’s contribution to the State jewellery box was significant not only in quantity but in quality.  His preferred jeweller was Marie-Etienne Nitot, forebear of what was to become the house of Chaumet.  He created a profusion of parures in fine gemstones of the first quality, some supplied by him and others by the Imperial treasury.  Nitot’s style was one of graceful, timeless elegance, inspired by but not enslaved to the motifs of neoclassicism.  Napoleon’s requirement for jewellery was increased by the need to please two empresses; after divorcing Josephine in 1810, more jewels were commissioned to befit the status of his new wife, the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, daughter of the Emperor and Marie Antoinette’s niece.  After the definitive fall of Napoleon in 1815, some of these pieces passed into some of the reigning families of Europe whose members had married into the Bonaparte and Beauharnais families.  Marie Louise rather gracelessly took her jewellery with her, rather than leave it behind as property of the State.

With the Bourbon restoration, much of Napoleon’s jewellery was altered but it was also added to- the Bourbons wanted to create shape the Restoration to their own image (the coronation crowns of Napoleon and his wives did not survive- these were destroyed by Louis XVIII). The Bourbons dispensed with Nitot, preferring to use the services of Bapst et Fils.  This jewellery dynasty had married into the Meniere family, who owned Boehmer et Bassange and had been Marie Antoinette’s personal jewellers.  The Duchesse d’Angoulême

Sapphire parure belonging to the Empress Josephine, now in the Louvre.

 (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s only surviving child), married to the heir to the throne, needed pieces that were not associated with the Bonaparte regime. Her father-in-law, the reactionary Charles X (Louis XVI’s brother), would also commissioned extensively.  He yearned for a return of the Ancien Regime, its pomp and privileges. His coronation was a reflection of that desire and the defining jewel was the magnificent diamond crown he created for himself, topped with a diamond fleur-de-lys set with the Sancy, in the style of the crown of his great-grandfather Louis XV.  Much of the ancient regalia lost during the Revolution was painstakingly re-created or restored for this sacre, which was to be the very last in France’s history.