Beautiful in themselves, pearls associated with famous women have a special aura, which is all the more unusual, since being unmounted, previous ownerships are usually impossible to trace. It is therefore the well documented royal provenance which adds to the importance of this double row of round, white pearls with seven detachable pear-shaped drops.
Clearly visible in the portrait by Joseph Karl Steiler of 1820, the necklace is worn by Princess Augusta Amalia of Bavaria (1788-1856), with an white ensemble of mousseline dress and fur cape, the latter being a speciality of the artist. Born into the ancient dynasty of Wittelsbach, daughter of Maximilian I, King of Bavaria, Amalia Augusta was married to the courageous, able and loyal Eugène de Beauharnais, the stepson of Napoleon and Viceroy of Italy from 1805-1815. Although arranged for political reasons, the marriage turned out very happily, and Augusta Amalia and her mother in law, the Empress Josephine, were close.
Noted for her warm heart and generosity, the pearls could therefore have come from the Empress, who, while alive is known to have given Augusta Amalia jewels to display when reigning over the vice regal court in Milan. If not then, they could have been inherited, for after Josephine’s death in 1814 her magnificent personal collection was divided between her children, Eugène and his sister, Queen Hortense of Holland. Besides diamond, coloured stone, mosaic, cameo and coral jewellery they shared five necklaces, consisting respectively of 361, 35, 40, 60, and 42 white and spherical pearls, a row of black pearls, a tassel and 30 large unmounted symmetrical pear-shaped drops. Since Hortense obtained a very grand diamond necklace, the most valuable item in the collection, it is likely that Eugène had the best of his mother’s pearls, of the “first water”.
After the fall of Napoleon and the death of his mother, Eugène and Augusta Amalia moved to Bavaria where King Maximilian gave him the principality of Eichstadt and the title of Duke of Leuchtenberg. They continued to live like royalty and each of their six surviving children married into ruling and aristocratic houses of Europe: one son was consort to Queen Maria Gloria of Portugal, another was husband to the daughter of Nicolas I of Russia, and a daughter, Amélie, sailed to South America as wife of the Emperor of Brazil. When the eldest daughter, named after her grandmother, Josephine Maximilienne Eugenie Napoleone (1807-76) went to Sweden in 1823 as the bride of the future King Oscar I (1844-59) this pearl necklace passed to her, with other jewels associated with the Empress Josephine, and which are still in the Swedish Royal Collection. In a group portrait of 1837 with her parents-in-law, Charles XIV Johan and Queen Desirée, the Crown Prince Oscar her husband, and their five children, Josefina, as the Swedes called her, wears the necklace with her grandmother’s pearl and cameo tiara. The elegance of her all-white toilette indicates that it was not only jewels and name she had inherited from the Empress Josephine but also her impeccable taste, for her dress with short billowing sleeves, low neckline and well defined waist not only displays these jewels to perfection but also enhances her good looks and youthful figure.
Due to the hazards of stormy seas and the dangers encountered by the divers, fine pearls have always been rare, and have therefore been adopted over the past two thousand years as a mark of distinction and opulence. Moreover, the “orient” or sheen which catches the light attractively and which is the charm of the pearl, also accentuated the beauty of her white skin. Besides being immensely becoming to her looks, the effect of this iridescence, while quite different from the brilliance of transparent stones, was also majestically imposing and transformed Josefina’s appearance from that of a mere mortal into that of a Queen. Whether worn with her daytime clothes or evening décolleté dresses this important looking double row of fine pearls fringed with drops around her neck gave her the confidence needed to perform her public duties and involve herself in the national life of the kingdom of Sweden. This she did, very successfully, until her death, much regretted by her people, at sixty nine years of age. Thereafter, the pearls remained with her descendants, and as one of the historic jewels of Sweden, the necklace provided a talking point at royal marriages and official occasions right up to the present century. The famous necklace fetched 2.3 M at Sotheby's Magnificent and Novbel Jewels' Auction in Geneva this May 12.
Source : Diana Scarisbrick