A tale filled with intrigue, scandal, and natural diamond baubles, the tumultuous romance between French leader Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Joséphine is a dramatic love story for the ages.
Soon to be further immortalized on screen, Academy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix will transform into the Emperor of France on November 22 in Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated forthcoming film Napoleon. Though, word has it that The Crown actress Vanessa Kirby’s star shines brightest in her nuanced performance as the Military commander’s first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, shedding new light on the complex historical heroine.
Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, best known as Empress Joséphine Bonaparte or Joséphine de Beauharnais, was an undisputed fashion icon of the early nineteenth century, spear heading many a trend, especially when it came to her natural diamond style choices.
Born in the French region of Martinique in 1763 to a Creole family, Joséphine wed French general Alexandre de Beauharnais in 1779 and had two children, Eugène and Hortense. In a tragic turn of events, the marriage ended in separation, exile, and dual imprisonment before he was beheaded for political reasons amid the Reign of Terror.
Left as a widow and a single mother, Joséphine made it her mission to climb the social ladder in the boudoir, establishing political alliances before meeting Napoleon and beginning their whirlwind romance. After only five months of courtship and plenty of passionate love letters later, the couple married in 1796.
The tastemaker’s ‘toi et moi’ engagement ring featured two pear-shaped stones – a sapphire and a diamond, positioned side-by-side to represent the meeting of two lovers. The engagement ring style has more recently been championed by the likes of Emily Ratajkowski and Megan Fox.
In 1804, Napoleon was dubbed Emperor of France, and his wife, Empress Joséphine adorned a diamond tiara for the coronation as a symbol of sovereignty and regality, skyrocketing the headpiece as a staple of court attire. Napoleon and his empresshad jewelers source inspiration from Ancient Greece and Rome to craft new head wreaths made from diamonds and other precious gemstones.
Even Chaumet’s high jewelry collection, Les Ciels de Chaumet and the Étoiles, Étoiles Tiara is designed with swirls of diamond shooting stars, referencing Napoleon’s loving nickname for the woman he believed to be his lucky charm—his lucky star—”mon étoile.”
By 1810, Napoleon and Joséphine would annul their marriage due to the Empress’s inability to bear an heir.
Joséphine’s son from her first marriage, Eugène married German princess, Augusta of Bavaria. Ironically, Joséphine’s daughter, Hortense went on to briefly become Queen of Holland through her marriage to Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. After the French Emperor’s only heir suffered from an untimely death, Hortense and Louis’ son, Napoleon III would go on to ascend the French throne.
Joséphine passed down her iconic engagement ring to her daughter, and for two centuries after, the‘toi et moi’ ring remained within the Bonaparte family. In 2013, the ring was sold off by French auction house, Osenat at the “L’empire à Fontainebleau, les rendez-vous de l’histoire” auction and fetched nearly $950,000.
While Napoleon never had the heir he so desperately desired for long, Joséphine has since become a direct ancestor to the heads of royal families of Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.