Christie's to Auction Natural Pearls Belonging to Eugénie, Last Empress of France

Eugenie & Natural Pearl Earrings. Photo: Christies

Eugenie & Natural Pearl Earrings. Photo: Christies

The wife of Napoleon III was ultimately exiled to England, but at least she had a pair of 19th Century natural pearl earrings.

Stolen, smuggled, and sometimes found again, the journey of royal treasures is one of the jewelry world's great fascinations. The French Crown Jewels, in particular, have had a turbulent history. After Napoleon III’s defeat in 1870, the Second Empire was overthrown and the government began to dismantle royal crowns. Some stones were kept on display in Paris museums, but other pieces were auctioned off in a historic—and controversial— sale in May 1887.

Though personal jewels belonging to French rulers fared better than the Crown Jewels, it's still just as exciting when they emerge at auction. As part of the Important Jewels sale on November 27, Christie's London will offer jewels from the personal collection of Eugénie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III and the last empress of France. On the block will be a pair of 19th century natural pearl earrings and a mid-19th century ruby and diamond heart locket pendant, which is rumored to contain a lock of her husband's hair.

When the empire collapsed in 1870, following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon and Eugenie were exiled to France (he died just three years later.) She left behind the jewels that were paid for by the State, but retained some of her personal favorites, like the two pieces being offered at Christie's this month.

It is the pair of natural pearl earrings that have auction-watchers most excited. Natural pearls, which are created organically inside an oyster, are quite rare and have been almost entirely harvested. Thus, they tend to command multi-million dollar prices at auction: a suite of natural pearls belonging to the Maharaja of Baroda went for $7 million in 2007, and in 2011 a natural pearl known as La Peregrina (which once belonged to Elizabeth Taylor) sold for $11 million. Eugénie's earrings are expected to fetch $66,000-$88,000.

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