Hidden Gem

Gifts of Gild

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Marie Louise Diadem and the landmark Palm Beach estate Mar-a-Lago share something in common: both were gifts to the American public from cereal heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post. The diadem, made by French jeweler Étienne Nitot et Fils, was one piece of a parure that included a necklace, earrings and comb. It was a gift from Napoleon to his second wife, the Empress Marie Louise, who reigned as Duchess of Parma from 1814 until her death.

In the mid-1950s, Van Cleef & Arpels purchased the diadem, removed the emeralds (selling them off individually in pieces of jewelry) and mounted Persian turquoise gemstones. In 1971, Post purchased the diadem and donated it to the Smithsonian, where it remains on permanent display. It contains 79 Persian turquoise stones totaling 540 carats, and 1,006 old mine-cut diamonds totaling 700 carats, set in silver and gold.

Post bequeathed Mar-a-Lago to the U.S. government in 1973, but due to high maintenance costs, the property was turned over to the private Post Foundation. In 1985, Donald J. Trump purchased the landmark and later turned it into a private club. Ironically, Post had intended for Mar-a-Lago to be used by American presidents as a winter White House. Now, that’s what it is. 

Carol Brodie is a jewelry expert and the host of Rarities Fine Jewelry on HSN. She writes our monthly “Hidden Gem” column. Read her other stories on the origin of bejeweled snake designs and Verdura’s Potted Plant Brooch and stay tuned for what’s to come! 

Marie Louise Diadem (Catalog Number G5021)

National Gem Collection, Smithsonian Institution

Gift of Mrs. Marjorie M. Post, 1971


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