Tiara Thursday: Queen Marie José's Beauharnais Pearl Tiara
Today's tiara is unusual for a variety of reasons.
Queen Marie José's Beauharnais Pearl Tiara
First, of course, is the design. Pearl tiaras are often more diamond heavy than pearl heavy, but the design of this coronet-like piece relies on small pearls to outline the engraved gold base and the triangular and fan motifs above it, with small diamonds just as accents. It was made around 1829 in Paris, making it one of the older tiaras still in existence today - but adding another point in the unusual column, it looks mostly the same today as it did back then. Many diadems dating back that far have been remodeled heavily over time, but this one has only been modified to add an extension piece at the back.
The tiara belonged to the adopted daughter of Napoleon, Stéphanie de Beauharnais (1789-1860). Stéphanie married the Grand Duke of Baden, and she was pictured wearing the tiara (above). The tiara made its way to the Belgian royal family, who are related to Stéphanie courtesy of her granddaughter Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Countess of Flanders (1845-1912), and it eventually ended up in the possession of Princess Marie José of Belgium (1906-2001), daughter of King Albert I and granddaughter of the aforementioned Countess of Flanders. (It should be noted that some references to this tiara tie it back to Empress Joséphine, Napoleon's first wife, who died prior to the reported approximate creation date of the piece, and some paths of ownership tie it to Empress Charlotte of Mexico, born a Belgian princess, at some point.)
The tiara's main modification came in 1924, when the band was extended at the back so that Princess Marie José could wear it in the fashionable style across the forehead to her first court ball. In 1930, the princess married the future King Umberto II of Italy. The tiara stayed in Queen Marie José's possession until her death in 2001, when it passed to her daughter, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy. It was auctioned at Christie's in 2007 (as were other pieces from the late queen's jewel collection, including the Empress Joséphine Tiara), and it sold for $85,190. Adding another layer to the rarity of the tiara's tale, it did not disapper into a private collection but was bought by the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany. They purchased the tiara because of its link to the history of Mannheim Palace, which was the home of Stéphanie de Beauharnais. It is now part of the museum collection at the impressive Baroque palace.