General Furniture & Decorative Arts

The Napoleon Diamond Necklace

The Napoleon diamond necklace

Marjorie Merriweather Post understood how to build a collection. At the young age of 27, she inherited the family cereal business from her father, and she also inherited his collector’s curiosity. With a net worth of about $250 million (close to $4.5 billion in today’s dollars), she earned the title of the wealthiest woman in the United States. She used her wealth to leave a multi-faceted legacy that includes her home in Washington, DC, now known as Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, which houses her exceptional collection of important decorative arts. 

Hillwood hosted a gala on the evening of June 6 to mark the opening of the newest exhibition, Spectacular; Gems and Jewelry from the Merriweather Post Collection. Doyle is pleased to be among the sponsors of this landmark exhibition. Reid Dunavant, Director of Doyle's DC/Mid-Atlantic Office, and I were fortunate enough to be among the guests who enjoyed advance preview of the breathtaking exhibition.

The evening also marked another special occasion: the birthday celebration of Mrs. Post’s granddaughter, Ellen MacNeille Charles. Mrs. Charles shared a charming story about accompanying her grandmother who was carrying a brown paper bag tied with a piece of string (and filled with her spectacular gems) to see S. Dillon Ripley, then Secretary of the Smithsonian. The Napoleon Diamond Necklace, which was gifted by Mrs. Post to the Smithsonian and is now in their permanent collection, may have been among the items discreetly disguised unassumingly in that lunch bag!

The magnificent necklace was made in 1811 by the French firm Nitot et Fils for Empress Marie Louise and Napoleon I to commemorate the birth of their son. It was fashioned from 52 diamonds, and at the time it cost a sum equal to the Empress’ yearly household budget, according to Gems and Gemology magazine. Mrs. Post acquired the necklace from Harry Winston in 1960, and donated it to the Smithsonian in 1962, where it has remained on display ever since.  

The Napoleon Necklace is but one example that illustrates the sophistication of Marjorie Merriweather Post, who demonstrated an scholarly understanding of the importance of exceptional provenance and quality. She was a collector who had an innate understanding of beauty, craftsmanship and rarity. She also definitely understood the spectacular and treated each piece of jewelry as a work of art. With her resources, she pioneered an otherworldly dimension of collecting, commissioning extraordinary pieces from Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Verdura, and Harry Winston, who used only the finest gems for her pieces. Many of these examples are included in the exhibition at Hillwood Museum.

Spectacular Gems and Jewelry from the Marjorie Merriweather Post Collection

On view June 10, 2017 through January 1, 2018
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
4155 Linnean Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 2008
For further information, visit

Additional Information on the Napoleon Diamond Necklace is available in Eloise Gaillou and Jeffrey Post, An Examination of the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, Gems and Gemology (Winter 2007) or on the web site of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History at

Portrait of specialist Samira Farmer
VP/Business Manager, DC/Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisory
General Furniture & Decorative Arts
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