Thursday, 17 December 2009

Royal jewels: The Norwegian emerald parure

The emerald parure is the grandest set of jewellery in the hands of the Norwegian royal family and is as such always worn by the Queen for the most important state occasions – the wedding of the Crown Prince and the Emperor of Japan’s state visit being two examples. It has also been worn for three British coronations.
An oft-repeated legend says that the jewels originally belonged to Empress Joséphine of the French – some even maintain that the tiara was worn by her to her and Napoléon’s coronation in Notre-Dame in December 1804. However, this seems likely to be a legend invented by the Swedish writer Sigyn Reimers in the 1950s.
In fact there is no parure in any of the relevant inventories of the Empress’s jewels whose description matches the Norwegian parure. According to an oral tradition in the royal family the emeralds themselves are from a Russian mine which is now extinct. As far as I know, emeralds were not found in Russia until the 1830s, while the Empress died in 1814.
But the emerald parure did certainly belong to Joséphine’s daughter-in-law, Duchess Auguste Amalie of Leuchtenberg. In her will she left it to her daughter, ex-Empress Amélie of Brazil, while her eldest daughter, Queen Josephina of Norway and Sweden, inherited a sapphire parure which to this day is frequently worn by Queen Silvia.
As the Brazilian Empress’s only child predeceased her, she left her jewels to her sister Josephina upon her death in 1873. The Swedish courtier Countess Mina Bonde apparently owned a portrait of Queen Josephina in old age wearing the emerald parure, but the current whereabouts of this painting are unknown.
After Josephina’s death in 1873, the emeralds passed to her daughter-in-law Queen Sophia. Upon her death in 1913, Sophia left them in her will to her youngest daughter-in-law, Princess Ingeborg. Ingeborg frequently wore the parure, but also made some rather unfortunate changes to it. She removed the drop-shaped emeralds on either side of the centre stone of the tiara and made earrings out of them and she also removed most of the seven pendants from the necklace and distributed them between her children.
It has often been said that Princess Ingeborg gave the emerald parure to her middle daughter, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, when she gave birth to a son, the present King of Norway, in 1937. This is however incorrect. Princess Ingeborg gave the parure to her daughter, wrapped in a scarf, at the Central Station in Stockholm in August 1940 when the Crown Princess embarked for the USA. With Norway occupied by Nazi Germany, Ingeborg was not sure if she would ever see her daughter again or if Märtha would ever be able to return to Norway. The emeralds were supposed to be her “life insurance” – the intention was to sell the emeralds one by one if they got in a desperate financial situation.
Luckily this was never necessary and Crown Princess Märtha was able to return to Norway in 1945. She died already in 1954 and her mother, who outlived her by four years, expressed the wish that the emeralds should be inherited by Märtha’s son and be part of the Norwegian “crown jewels”.
Märtha’s daughter, Princess Astrid, borrowed them on some occasions when she was first lady of Norway, but since 1968 they have been worn by her sister-in-law, Queen Sonja. (The portrait of the Queen is by Cathrine Wessel/the Royal Court).


  1. Would yo happen to know if Carl Edvard Wessel (circa 1880) is related to the Bernadottes?

  2. The answer is probably no - at least I have never heard of any Carl Edvard Wessel being related to the Bernadottes, which I believe I would if he had been.

  3. Wessel family history says Karl Edvard Wessel circa 1860
    (not 1880 as mentioned above) of Malmo, Sweden was an illegitimate son of Karl XV. He was well provided for and educated.
    It is impossible to find any "real" proof. We don't know the mother's name. We have only read that Karl XV had many illegitimate offspring.
    Is there any way that you know of to find out this sort of thing?

  4. If all the rumours were true Carl XV would have had hundreds of children, but he acknowledged none and none has been proved to be his children. The best indicator would be if he paid for a child's upbringing and education, although that too would not say anything for certain (there may have been other reasons for his doing so). Obviously the only way to get a definite answer would be a DNA test.

  5. Thank you.
    Karl Edvard was provided for, but like you said...not solid enough proof.
    Family resemblances are also pretty astonishing, but again, not enough.
    DNA testing seems sort of desperate...but I suppose if family really wants to know for sure it is the only way.
    Thanks for taking the time to answer. Have a great night.

  6. Yes, resemblance is not much to go by. There is this Norwegian family who for years have lived on the lie that their ancestor was Carl XV's illegitimate son, apparently based on little but (imagined?) resemblance. At one stage they even took Bernadotte as their middle name. Last year their DNA was tested against that of a Bernadotte and the test showed clearly that they were not related.

  7. Do you know which jeweller created the parure? I've read in some places that it was created by Bapst but in others that it was created by Nitot.

    Also, I never realized that the necklace used to have pendants. I went back and looked at the picture of the Connaughts at King George V's coronation and sure enough Crown Princess Margareta's necklace has pendants. Thanks for the great info.


    1. No, unfortunately the name of the jeweller is unknown. The names Bapst and Nitot have appeared in some articles, but no sources have ever been stated in support of those claims. Chaumet, the successor to Nitot, has no record of it in their archives, they have informed me (although that does not rule it out completely). However, if the family tradition is correct in stating that the stones are Russian the jewellery cannot have been made until the 1830s at the earliest. Thus it could be made by a jeweller in St Petersburg or Munich - Duchess Auguste Amalie was resident in Munich at that time, while a son of hers lived in St Petersburg and was married to a Russian grand duchess.

      The Queen occasionally uses the necklace with one pendant, but I believe there are two pendants in the King's possession (but wearing two would look silly). Two pendants went to Princess Margaretha, who had a brooch made of it (now in the possession of her granddaughter-in-law, Countess Jutta of Rosenborg), while three went to Queen Astrid. The latter three were broken up and the stones used for the peacock tiara created by Van Cleef & Arpels for the late Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte in 1956, so sadly it is no longer possible to reassemble the pendants.


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