The 10 most iconic pieces of jewelry in history

Napoleon diamond necklace

The historic Napoleon diamond necklace was presented by the French emperor to his second wife, Marie-Louise, in 1811 by their son II. At the birth of Napoleon, Emperor of Rome. The stunning silver-and-gold design was created by Etienne Nitôt and Sons of Paris and, according to the Smithsonian, originally contained 234 diamonds: 28 old mined diamonds, nine pendeloques and 10 briolettes, complemented by several smaller gems. “All the stones were mined in India or Brazil, where the best diamonds came from at this point,” Hiscox says of the necklace’s stunning appeal. “They have an extremely clear, water-like quality.”

After the fall of Napoleon, Habsburg’s wife and many of her jewels returned to her hometown, Vienna, and after her death, the necklace passed to her sister-in-law, the Austrian Sophie. The Archduchess decided to shorten it, removing two stones and turning them into earrings, the whereabouts of which are currently unknown. The necklace, meanwhile, remained in the family until 1948, when it was sold first to a French collector and finally to American businesswoman Marjorie Merriweather Post, who gave it to the Smithsonian in 1962. They are still respected there. Hiscox as “one of the most spectacular pieces [its] period”.

See also  The Stars at Midday assessment: A 'beguiling, immersive movie'

If you’d like to comment on this story or anything else you’ve seen on BBC Culture, visit our Facebook page or send us a message Twitter.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly newsletter featuring services, called The Essential List. A curated selection of BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel stories delivered to your inbox every Friday.