Putting on the glitz: Napoleon's jewels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2007, 12:00am

Many fine jewellers have been linked to royals and aristocracy over the years, for example Cartier, jeweller of choice for the Duchess of Windsor. For Chaumet, a long and lasting relationship with French emperor Napoleon I established the French house as one of the world's most prestigious jewellers.

To celebrate its boutique's first anniversary in Hong Kong, Chaumet will be exhibiting a rare collection of jewels and objects this week, dating from 1797. The jewels date from 1803 and 1813.

'Thirty-five pieces will be presented in our museum in glass columns and tables until the end of the month,' says curator Beatrice de Plinval.

Founded in 1780 by Marie-Etienne Nitot and his son Francois-Regnault, Chaumet was first linked to the French court before the French Revolution when Marie-Etienne became part of a committee charged with inventorying jewels and precious objects belonging to Queen Marie-Antoinette.

The collection in Hong Kong features pieces that have been lent to Chaumet by private collectors worldwide, including Count Colonna Walewski, a descendant of the emperor, while others are part of Chaumet's permanent collection.

While every item holds significant historical value, they are also testament to jewellery-making techniques that are no longer prevalent today.

'The techniques used to create the jewels and precious objects embody the golden age of decorative arts during the empire: the work of gold, enamel, precious stones, pearls, tortoise shell, hardstones and so on,' says de Plinval. 'The cameos and intaglios are typical of the empire, and do not exist today.'

Highlights include a pearl and intaglio day set (circa 1809, above) made for Empress Josephine and a stunning tiara comb (circa 1803, left) made for the wedding of Princess Pauline Borghese, the emperor's favourite sister. The comb is mounted in coloured gold and set with seven hardstone cameos, making it very rare.

A gold bracelet (circa 1806, top), made for Napoleon's sister Elisa Bacchiocchi, is set with stones, the names of which have initials which spell out Napoleon-3 Juin 1806, testament to the period's signature acrostic style of conveying names and messages through stones.

Napoleon: Fascinating Jewels, tomorrow until Dec 31, Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, free admission, the Chaumet Musuem, Shop 1-2, St George's Building, Ice House Street, Central, tel: 2536 9338