Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Million Dollar Engagement Ring

“France…the Army…the Head of the Army…Josephine…”, with these last words Napoleon Bonaparte departed the world on May 5th, 1821. Though he had divorced her in 1810 for failing to produce an heir, theirs was a match that continues to resound through history. We will forever associate Napoleon with Josephine, as much as his crowning triumph at Austerlitz or his final defeat at Waterloo. It was her name that he uttered with his dying breath.

The ultimate symbol of this famous union must be the engagement ring which the young Napoleon had given Josephine in 1796. He was a 26 year old rising star and France’s youngest general, and she a beautiful widow 6 years his senior with 2 children. By any standard and measure as far as jewelry is concerned, the gold ring is a modest affair and nothing extraordinary. It comprises a blue sapphire and a diamond, with the two pear-shaped gems each weighing just under a carat facing each other. They were set in an arrangement called ‘Toi et Moi’, meaning ‘You and Me’ popular in the 18th century. Napoleon was by no means rich at this point of his career, and the country was still reeling from the trauma of the French Revolution; it must have strained his meager resources severely to purchase it and would have meant no small sacrifice. The ring was rightfully treasured by Josephine until the very end.

The ring personified young Napoleon’s love and  passion for his wife. Two days after their wedding he left to take command of the rag-tag French army in Italy and soundly thrashed his enemies there. While on campaign he would write frenzied letters to Josephine…with words such as ” Oh, my adorable wife! I don’t know what fate has in store for me, but if it keeps me apart from you any longer, it will be unbearable! My courage is not enough for that…How happy I would be if I could assist you at your undressing, the little firm white breast, the adorable face, the hair tied up in a scarf a la creole.”

In March of 2013, this ring which had once belonged to an Empress was auctioned and sold for nearly $1 million US dollars to an anonymous buyer, rumored to be a direct descendant of Napoleon. Perhaps it has finally come full circle.

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