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Diamonds at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

It is perhaps, of the most curious things at the Exhibition, as it is of virtue: it is vaunted_It languishes in a corner. The scientists tell each other about the wonders they discover every day in the chemical room. Walk through it by chance, and you will hear an Orfila, a Thénard, a Paul de Rémusat, celebrating, in a low voice, it is true, the praise of caffeine, of theine.... tea extract worth at least ten thousand francs, coffee extract of the same price, as big as a fist. - This, say the scientists to each other, is what is called a miracle. Alas! around the miracle there is a great solitude. However, you see in the middle of class 36, the crowd rushes in, attracted to the irresistible brilliance of brilliant things. They go there, as the lark goes to the mirror. This is the privilege of diamonds and pearls, or rather, it is their charm. One cannot admire them too closely. A tiara, a bracelet, a pin, a beautiful necklace and earrings, the belt and the clasp, in a word, all these ornaments which seem to be made for queens and for the most beautiful people, the ornament of this world. These jewels.... these marvels, you will find them in the classroom where everything shines, on their red velvet shelves, protected by glass cases that incessantly shelter them from an indiscreet breath. Precious jewels, real jewels, and further on fake jewels, which nevertheless represent a very large trade in both worlds, have set up their tabernacles in this splendid place. Jewellery and jewellery-making are two charming arts which cannot be confused.

We would define jewellery as the art of setting brilliants in an almost imperceptible net of silver, so much so that the less one sees the setting, the more the beautiful stone shines. In this respect, the jeweller is the only one to whom the honour of his art belongs. On the contrary, the jeweller, in order to accomplish his excellent work, needs the help and assistance of several artists: the enameller, the chiseller, the engraver1. The jeweller, the jeweller, needs art and taste, patience and careful study of the beautiful works that the masters of the past have left behind them. But what! we are speaking here only of jewellery, and first of all we come across the exhibition of a master of ancient race, and rightly popular by so many beautiful works that have come out of his hands, Mr. Bapst, let us say better, Messrs Bapst. They are of German origin. They came to Paris a few days before the dawn of 1789, at a time when France and Europe were worried about this immense adventure: the Queen's Necklace, a drama shrouded in so much mystery, and filled with threats that were all too soon realised.

Bapst, the ancestor, bought from the jewellers Boehmer and Bossange the office and job of jeweller to the king, and until 1848 they remained in effect the jewellers to the Crown. Even today, they would recognize in a heap of gems, the least diamonds of this treasure of thirty-six million gems, it is that even today, if they are not any more the jewellers in title, they remained in fact, the workers of the Crown. One cannot say by what transformations these priceless gems have passed under these skilful hands in the richness and beauty of their display, they must miss the belt, the shoulder bows, the diadems, the necklaces, and so many ornaments so varied and so diverse, which resplendent, at the time we are, so well worn, at the great feasts of the Tuileries or of the town hall. Perhaps it is unfortunate for everyone that the Crown diamonds shine in this way, by their absence from class 36. Without emphasis one could say that our. Golconde has lost its spring.

However, around the glittering showcase of these famous jewellers, women, lords, princes, kings, artists, poor devils, young girls adorned with their beauty alone, stop and, first of all, greet with their soul and their eyes this necklace of emeralds, diamonds and pearls, which represents a fortune. Obviously, to wear such an ornament, a woman of high and beautiful stature is needed. This emerald necklace would overwhelm an ordinary woman, and the ornament would turn it into a disgrace. Add to this necklace the front of the bodice, adorned with its ten pearls of the most beautiful orient, and on the superb head of the lady accustomed to wear it, do not forget the diadem, adorned with those marvellous emeralds which one would take for a reflection of the necklace, then you have the whole ornament, and nothing is missing, except the majesty of the person. Indeed, this is the real secret of these illustrious ornaments, I almost said this is their happiness and ours, they suit few people, and very few foreheads are worthy of such a beautiful burden.

Much simpler (oh, here is a very strange word, and quite astonishing to find itself there, in connection with these royal works!) is the diadem borrowed from the band of the Caesars. Nothing but diamonds to represent the imperial laurel. This headband will shine with a new brilliance, set in this blond hair. The oriental egret, made of fern leaves, is intended to complete this modest ornament. Where are you, amiable shepherdess, whom Despréaux led into the gardens of Versailles?

Like a shepherdess on the most beautiful day of fever,
With superb rubies does not adorn her head,
And without mixing gold with the brilliance of diamonds,
Gathers in a nearby field her most beautiful ornaments...

So the shepherdesses of the Chaussée d'Antin, the Faubourg Saint-Honoré or the Faubourg Saint-Germain can rest assured; they are not forgotten in this jewellery, where the closed crown dominates. Next to the aigrette and not far from the corsage bouquet, have you seen this humble necklace of thirty-three pearls? Each pearl is a masterpiece. A single pear, such as the sons of a family would do well to keep one just like it for thirst, is the worthy end of these thirty-three wonders. Nothing more. Hardly a little clasp, placed there because a clasp is needed. Well, for the sum and bagatelle of two hundred and twenty-five thousand francs, no more, one would take this necklace, of a single rank, which would make many queens jealous. We have been told that it was rare enough, in fact, to find among simple duchesses a collection of such beautiful pearls. Jewellers, like conquerors, need happiness. To be happy, said the Emperor Napoleon, is the great secret. The exquisite union of these thirty-three pearls on the same thread, made for a charming neck, will count among the good fortunes of the Bapst house.

Moreover, these magnificent jewellers have long been accustomed to such encounters. One of them, the grandfather, an enthusiast, coming across a collection of twelve diamond rings from the famous Hope collection at Lord Hamilton's in London, bought them with his entire fortune, at a cost of fifteen thousand pounds. Each of these brilliants was of a different colour. There were three of them, the most sought-after of all: the blue diamond, the pink diamond, the black diamond (doesn't this sound like a fairy tale from the time of the Duchess of Burgundy?). It so happened that eleven rings soon found a buyer. The pink diamond was the first to go; the blue diamond went to join the blue bird. Only the black diamond remained. The son probably kept it in memory of his father. It is hardly worth more than thirty thousand francs, but I believe that these good people would be very distressed if they had to part with the black diamond. It is a kind of prodigal child to whom one becomes more attached by dint of sacrifice. For thirty years this precious ring has cost their owners fifteen hundred francs.

In the same showcase we could also mention a butterfly made of rubies and diamonds. You would say a flower that flies, and goes off, with its two wings spread, to look for a beautiful woman to adorn.

In the early days of the great battle of the Champ de Mars, and as soon as word reached London of the admiration that was already surrounding the necklaces and crowns of the Exhibition, the great city, which does not want to give up the palm until it has fought, called upon Lord Dudley's jewels: Dudley, to the rescue! At once this true Englishman hastened to send into the window of the famous jeweller Hunt, emeralds, pearls and sapphires, the prerogative of his house; the rare ornament of the young and beautiful Lady Dudley. That is why you have before you two millions of gems, which are scarcely seen, Lord Dudley's jewels being as difficult to show as Lord Hertfort's pictures. What treasures are buried in these English houses! One of them, no doubt, has a fragment of the famous ruby necklace which Charles I gave to Queen Henrietta of England, and which the Queen scattered to the four winds of misfortune. Another Englishman, no doubt, forgets at the bottom of his cassette the pearl that this same King Charles 1" always wore in his ear (I attest to this in Van Dyck's portrait). This was the pearl worth three million of our currency, which Julius Caesar presented to the beautiful Sempronia, who was the mother of Junius Brulus. Now, the unfortunate king was wearing this second peregrine (that is the name of Charles V's pearl) when the royal head fell under Cromwell's axe.

Someone snatched this jewel, which was lying in blood. It was redeemed by King Charles II; King William presented it to his favourite, Lord Portland, of whom the late Lord Maccaulay has spoken so fittingly. Alas, the fate of diamonds, the fate of pearls, the fate of crowns!

As he brought to Reims, on the very day of the coronation of His Majesty King Charles X, the royal crown of France, and the King was already beginning to wait, Mr. Bapst had the honour of presenting to His Majesty this frail crown, in which a fleur-de-lis trembled, as if it had foreseen the storm to come. The King, with his venerable hand, took the crown with such haste that he thought of breaking it. Then, placing it on his august head, he found that it was very light. An ephemeral emblem! And how after a few days this simple and good king, the honour of the kings of Europe, must have found that his was heavy to wear!

In the showcase of Mr. Mellerio, who is also a true artist, one can admire a large sapphire of marvellous beauty, and this priceless and very famous stone is still waiting for a buyer. Finally, those who are curious about these wonders, which are no less famous than poems, and of which nations boast as they would boast of their victories, hoped, but in vain, to recognise in its perfection this famous Sancy, which was to suffer such varied fortunes. After having passed, thanks to the revolutions, from France to Belgium, and from Belgium to Russia, it had returned from the festivals of Saint Petersburg to the festivals of Paris... We were told that the Sancy was no longer in Paris; that it had gone to London to join the heap of jewels that these Venetians of the Thames would compete with even the Orient. Nothing is impossible for these Englishmen, when they have to adorn their queen or their mistress. Only one has admitted defeat. It was Lord Buckingham. As, one evening, his new mistress contemplated, immersed in some immense bliss, the shepherd's star shining in the midst of all the constellations of heaven: "My dear soul," said Buckingham, "do not look any longer at this star, I could not give it to you! "

In front of the window counter-signed with a beautiful name: Maret et Beaugrand, we stop and are charmed by a small enamel clock, chiselled to perfection. What beautiful hours it must ring under a happy and ardent vault! Certainly, the shepherd's hour obeys these sapphire hands. This clock is such a rare and charming masterpiece that it has earned the honours of a precious jewel. One would gladly look for the glorious name of Froment-Meurice on it. In London, in Anne de Boleyn's flat, there was a clock of this small model. It seemed as if this jewel came in a straight line from the princesses of the House of Valois: Louise of Savoy, Marguerite of Navarre, Diane of Poitiers. With his bloody hand, Henry VIII the executioner had written on the base of this clock, which he presented to his unfortunate wife, Anne of Boleyn, this loving inscription by which he designated the hours of this fatal dial: The happiest! There was one of these hours which was to sound the death knell of Anne of Boleyn.

That is why; honest people, good people, writers and poets, my brothers, we will be satisfied, if you please, with Truchy's pearls, Bourguignon's diamond, and the clocks that the patient Helvetian or the Black Forest clockmaker will have cut with their knife.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée