This historic diamond necklace was a gift from Napoléon Bonaparte to his second wife, Marie-Louise of the Austrian House of Hapsburg, Empress of France. The necklace was given to commemorate the birth of their son, Napoléon François Joseph Charles (also known as Napoleon II), in 1811. Following her death in 1847, the necklace remained in the family for several generations.

The Napoleon Diamond Necklace, in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is set with 260 carats of old-mine cut diamonds. - Chip Clark, Courtesy Smithsonian Institution

The Napoleon Diamond Necklace, in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is set with 234 diamonds weighing approximately 263 carats; the largest stone is about 10.40 carats. Photo: Chip Clark, Courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

As with many famous diamonds in this series, this necklace has an illustrious past. After changing hands a few times within the family, then-owner Archduchess Maria Theresa sent the necklace to the United States in 1929 to be sold for an asking price of $450,000. Her agents for the transaction included her grandnephew and two others who used pseudonyms, “Colonel Townsend” (supposedly in the British Secret Service) and his novelist wife, “Princess Baronti.”

After the stock market crash later that year, the Townsends sold the necklace to a New York diamond dealer for $60,000, sending $7,270 to Maria Theresa and keeping the rest for “expenses related to the sale.” The courts eventually returned the necklace to Maria Theresa, her grandnephew went to jail, and the co-conspirators disappeared, their true identities never uncovered.

The Hapsburg family eventually sold the necklace in 1948 to a private individual. Through various transactions, it found its way to New York jeweler Harry Winston who sold it to Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post. She donated the necklace to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962 where it can now be viewed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Originally published on April 7, 2014. Last updated on October 4, 2019.