The French Crown Jewels
The French Crown Jewels were the crowns, orb, sceptres, diadems and jewels that were the symbol of royalty and which were worn by many Kings and Queens of France. The set was finally broken up, with most of it sold off in 1885 by the Third French Republic. The surviving French Crown Jewels, principally a set of historic crowns now set with decorated glass, are on display in the Galerie d'Apollon of the Louvre, France's
premier museum and former royal palace, together with the Regent Diamond (
the Sancy Diamond (55.23 carats)
and the 105-carat Côte-de-Bretagne red spinel,
carved into the form of a dragon. In addition, some gemstones and jewels (including the Emerald of Saint Louis, the 'Ruspoli' sapphire
and the diamond pins of Queen Marie Antoinette)
are on display in the Treasury vault of the Mineralogy gallery in the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle.
Crown of Louis XV
On the about 20 documented royal crowns of the Ancien Régime,
the only surviving one from the destructions of 1590 and 1793 is the crown of Louis XV. The king had the Regent Diamond set in the lower part of the
fleur-de-lis in the front of his crown,
while eight of the famous
that the cardinal had bequeath to the French Crown are set in the other seven fleur-de-lis and in the circlet of the crown.
Diamonds and colored gemstones are set between two rows of pearls on the circlet and are also set into the four arches that rise behind the fleur-de-lis and the eight ornamental points between the fleur-de-lis. At the junction of these four arches is a small pedestal surrounded by two rows of small diamonds on either side of a row of small pearls. Eight larger diamonds set between this pedestal and the arches give the effect of a sunburst when the crown is viewed from above. On the pedestal rises a double fleur-de-lis formed of nine large diamonds, including the Sancy Diamond which forms the central upper petal of this double fleur-de-lis. The gold brocade cap which lines the crown is also ornamented with large diamonds.
Since the Middle Ages, and previous to the making of this crown, the crowns of French kings were adorned with gemstones like the
or the crown of Saint Louis sometimes called Sainte Couronne
But some of the most valuable precious stones could be removed of them, since it was traditional for a French king to bequeath his crown to the treasury of the Abbey, now Basilica of St Denis
on their deaths.
This crown was also bequeath to Saint Denis on the death of Louis XV, but not before the diamonds had been replaced with crystals and it is on display presently in the Louvre similarly set with crystals.
Among the most famous diamonds preserved in the collection and now kept in the Apollo Gallery of the Louvre are the Sancy Diamond, which once had been part of the pre-Commonwealth Crown Jewels of England, the Hortensia pink diamond
cutted in 1678 for Louis XIV and above all the Regent Diamond. The treatment of the Regent Diamond epitomised the attitude of the French Royal Family to the Crown Jewels. While the Regent Diamond was the centrepiece of the King Louis XV crown,
and worn by him at his coronation in February 1723, Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, wore it in a black velvet hat. The Royal French Blue
was transformed into the Hope Diamond
With two remaining jewels of the Renaissance, the Côte-de-Bretagne red spinel and the Dragon perle, a pin shaped into the form of a delphin, The crown jewels collection contains as well among others, the emerald set and pearl earings of Empress Josephine,
the micromosaic and emerald and diamond sets of Empress Marie Louise,
the sapphire set of Queen Marie Amélie,
a diamond cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit
or a diamond portrait box of Louis XIV.
The Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792 when the Garde Meuble (Royal Treasury) was stormed by rioters.
Most, though not all, of the Crown Jewels were recovered eventually. Neither the Sancy Diamond nor the French Blue Diamond were found in the years after, however. The Royal French Blue is believed to have been recut, and it is now known as the Hope Diamond.
The Hope is famously alleged to have been surrounded by bad luck. Marie Antoinette who supposedly wore it was beheaded (in fact, it was actually worn by her husband, Louis XVI, although he too was beheaded). Other owners and their families experienced suicides, marriage break-ups, bankruptcy, deaths in car crashes, falls off cliffs, revolutions, mental breakdowns, and deaths through drug overdoses. It was even tangentially associated with the case of the murdered Lindbergh baby,
when its then owner, silver heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean,
pawned it to raise money that she ended up paying to a con-man unconnected with the actual kidnapping. Most modern historians view the tales of a curse on the Hope to be spurious; the first mention of such tales is documented to 1908. Pierre Cartier, the Parisian jeweler, is widely credited with publicizing the stories of a curse on the diamond in hopes of increasing its saleability. Since 1958, it has been in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it is the single most-viewed object in the Smithsonian's collection.
The Crown Jewels were augmented by jewels added by Napoleon I and Napoleon III along with their empresses.