Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s Diamond Rose Brooch

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  • Post published:January 2, 2024
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Today marks the 120th Anniversary of the Death of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, who passed away on this day in 1904! The Napoleonic Princess who was the first cousin and former fiancé of Emperor Napoleon III, married a Russian Prince and was a prominent Salonnière during the Second Empire, Princess Mathilde possessed a legendary jewellery collection, the most iconic piece of which was her Diamond Rose Brooch!

But first, let’s learn more about Princess Mathilde Bonaparte! The daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte, a sometime King of Westphalia and later Prince of Montfort, and Princess Katharina of Württemberg, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte was raised in Florence and Rome and after a failed engagement to her first cousin, the future Emperor Napoleon III, she married rich Russian Nobleman Count Anatoly Nikolaievich Demidov, 1st Prince of San Donato. The couple had a stormy marriage and in 1846, she fled to Paris with her lover, taking her husband’s jewels, which were never returned despite him being forced to pay an annual alimony of 200,000 French francs. As the cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, Princess Mathilde ran a prominent salon in Paris and was a great society hostess. She once told Marcel Proust: “If it weren’t for my uncle, Napoleon, I’d be selling oranges in the streets of Ajaccio.” Princess Mathilde continued to reside in France after the fall of the Second Empire in 1870 and the expulsion of all French Royals in 1886, remaining a prominent member of society until she passed at the age of 83 on this day in 1904.

The magnificent Antique Diamond Corsage Brooch was designed as a large sculpted rose blossom, now known as a Tudor Rose, entirely decorated by old European, old mine and rose-cut diamonds, mounted in silver-topped gold, circa 1855, in a red leather fitted case, and was created by created by the Parisian Jeweller Theodore Fester in 1855. According historical documents, the brooch is said to contain:

 “2,637 brilliants for 136 carats and 860 little roses not weighed”

Princess Mathilde was not photographed or depicted wearing the Diamond Rose Brooch, but there is no doubt she wore it often during the five decades it remained in her possession.

Princess Mathilde had no children, and on her death in 1904, her legendary Jewels were auctioned at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. The sale catalogue mentions

“a corsage spray in the form of a fully open rose and two rose buds, with eleven leaves set entirely in very fine Brazilian brilliants”

The Diamond Rose Brooch was bought by the famous French Art Deco jeweller Janesich and was subsequently sold by Cartier to Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, the “Queen of New York society”, who was depicted wearing the Brooch with a magnificent Diamond Corsage, Necklace and a Cartier Tiara for a portrait in the 1910s.

Another unique acquisition was a rose brooch, 15 cm wide and set all over with diamonds, which came from the 1904 auction of the property of the late Princess Mathilde. That same year, Louis Cartier sold the great flower to one of the company’s firmest supporters, Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt of New York

As the wife of one of America’s wealthiest “robber barons”, Mrs. Vanderbilt amassed a jewelry collection of great importance. The Vanderbilts were among the most influential of the new American aristocracy and Cartier furnished the family dynasty with European crown jewels as well as spectacular custom pieces.

Mrs Vanderbilt was later seen wearing Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s Diamond Rose Brooch for a Performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in the 1930s. During the Second World War, Mrs Vanderbilt hosted the future Countess Mountbatten and Lady Pamela Hicks, who recalled:

“it was important for Mrs. Vanderbilt to be seen at the opera and she decided to take Patricia with her—that is, to some of the opera. Eager to make an entrance, Mrs. Vanderbilt would never arrive until the end of the first act, whereupon she would enter her box with the diamonds of her sumptuous Cartier necklace ablaze as the lights went up for the interval. After she felt that she had been noticed sufficiently, she would take her seat. At the end of the second act, Mrs. Vanderbilt felt she had done her bit and would go home, so Patricia got to know only the second act of the operas. ”

In June 1941, Mr and Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt hosted a spectacular Ball for the benefit of the USO (United Service Organization), at the Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th Avenue, at which Mrs Vanderbilt wore Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s Diamond Rose Brooch alongside her Cartier Necklace and Corsage, the same ensemble in which she was photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Following Mrs Vanderbilt’s passing in 1953, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s Diamond Rose Brooch passed into a Private Collection until appearing at auction at the Christie’s Geneva “Magnificent Jewels” Sale in 1972, where it sold for $28,682, eventually being acquired by Fred Leighton for his personal Collection.

In 2004, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s Diamond Rose Brooch appeared at Auction at Christie’s in New York, and after being worn by President of Christie’s Los Angeles, it was sold at Auction for USD 701,900. The current location is unknown.


Richard Jean Jacques | HRJMB | Artemisias Royal Jewels

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