So...Was the Plundering of the Crown Jewels of France an Inside job?

Robbery of the Crown Jewels of France on five successive nights...umm, sounds like a good movie plot.




Pearl Diadem of French Crown Jewels
Pearl Diadem worn by Empress Eugenie
I recently saw this in the Louvre Museum. Wow!


The collection of gems known as the Crown Jewels of France owed its origin to Francis I (1494-1547). While in Bordeaux, on his way to meet his bride, Eleanor of Austria, sister of Emperor Charles V, Francis created by letter patent the Treasure of the Crown Jewels, giving to the state a number of his most valued diamonds, under the condition that at each change of sovereign a careful inventory should be made. The original collection consisted of six pieces of jewelry valued at 272,242 "ecus soleil," or about $700,000.

The crown jewels of France have passed through many vicissitudes in the course of time.

A number of gems were at various times pledged as security for loans made in France and Italy, and it is said that in 1588, during the reign of Henry III, all the jewels disappeared from the royal treasury. Henry IV strove to regather the scattered ornaments, but it was only in the reign of Louis XIV that the collection became really important.

At the time of the French Revolution, in 1791, an inventory was made of the crown jewels of France by the order of the National Assembly.

The crown jewels of France were then deposited in the Garde-Meuble, where they were exposed to public view. Either they were very carelessly guarded, or the guardians were in collusion with a band of thieves, for the room wherein they were kept was entered on five successive nights, and when the theft was finally discovered only about 500,000 francs' ($100,000) worth of the gems remained.

Sevigne of the French Crown Jewels
Sevigne of French Crown Jewels
withThe Regent Pearl
(see below)


Many of the most valuable objects from the crown jewels of France, were, however, traced and recovered. Napoleon I, when he became emperor, made every effort to enrich the treasure, and purchased gems to the value of 6,000,000 francs ($1,200,000), and subsequent rulers added to the collection on various occasions.

At the time of the official inventory in 1791 the entire collection of pearls was estimated at about 1,000,000 francs ($200,000). The finest specimen in the collection was a splendid round pearl weighing 109 1/4 grains (See La Reine des Perles) and estimated at about 200,000 francs ($40,000), or $3 per grain, on a base of $3.35.

Then came two pear-shaped pearls of a fine orient and well-matched, weighing respectively 117 3/4 and 113 grains, and valued at 300,000 francs ($60,000) or $260 per grain, on a base of $2.25.

In addition to the above there were twenty-five separate round pearls which had constituted the necklace of the queen; they ranged in weight from 36 to 15 1/2 grains, and were valued at about 90,000 francs ($18,000).

Beside the pear-shaped pearls to which we have alluded, there were two other pairs, each valued at 32,000 francs ($6400) for the two pearls; they averaged about 100 grains in weight. In additions to these there were two weighing respectively 175 1/2 and 205 1/4 grains, each valued at 20,000 francs ($4000), and seven others ranging in weight from 92 12 to 17 grains and valued at from 10,000 to 15,000 francs ($2000 to $3000).

Pearl and Diamond corsage of Empress Marie Louise of France
jordanrich1
Pearl and Diamond corsage of Empress Marie Louise of France
Click on Photo to Enlarge

The best oval pearl was one weighing seventy-six and one half grains and estimated at 20,000 francs ($4000); there were two others, one of ninety-three grains, valued at 12,000 francs ($2400), and one of 121 grains, valued at 10,000 francs ($2000), and a button pearl of 198 grains entered at 15,000 francs ($3000).

Beside these separate pearls there were eleven strings comprising 310 pearls, weighing in all 6778 grains and valued at but 29,400 francs (about $6,000). The average per pearl was 95 francs ($19), less than one dollar a grain.

These pearls, according to their beauty, would now be worth from four to six times the valuation here given, so that the two large pear-shaped pearls of the French crown may be worth today $20,000 and the great round pearl from $100,000 to $250,000.

Many of these pearls in the crown jewels of France collection were a century old. They were collected at a time when not as much attention was paid to their absolute perfection and beauty as at the present time, for there probably never has been a period when rare and perfect pearls, diamonds, or rubies have been appreciated so much more highly than those of mediocre quality.

Information on the French Crown Jewels and Pearls as recorded in 1908 by Kunz and Stevenson in "The Book of the Pearl".

French Crown Jewels in the case at the Louvre in the Apollo Gallery
jordanrich1
See Empress Eugenie's Pearl Tiara at upper left of photo.
Click on photo to see enlarged version.

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