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Josephine de Beauharnais : Saviour of 18th century French Jewelers

The French Revolution (1789-1799) began when France plunged into a deep financial and food crisis and its people finally had had enough and overthrew their absolute monarchy. It decimated the ranks of the aristocracy. For those who managed to escape the attentions of Madame Guillotine, they either lost their estates and privileges or took their riches with them abroad.

It was a hellish period for French jewelers. Their livelihood depended on their rich clientele who vanished literally overnight. Further more, the ensuing decade of turmoil and terror saw a suppression of extragavances associated with the upper classes. So much so that apprenticeships in goldsmithing were abolished and jewelers were reduced to melting down confiscated jewelry to fill Revolutionary coffers.

In stepped the lovely and charming Creole, Josephine de Beauharnais, mistress to several top Revolutionary leaders. She married Napoleon Bonaparte, a Revolutionary general in 1796. They were eventually crowned as Emperor and Empress of France in 1804. Josephine loved clothes and jewelry with a passion. Wearing jewelry became vogue again under her influence, much to the relief of the French jewelry trade. The beautiful emerald and diamond drop earrings shown here were chosen by her for a gift.

References

Tracey Tolkien and Henrietta Wilkinson (1997). A Collector's Guide to Costume Jewelry: Key Styles and how to recognise them. Firefly Books.

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