Madame Thiers Three-Strand Pearl Necklace

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Origin of Name :-

The name refers to a three-strand oriental pearl necklace of matchless beauty that was once owned by Madame Thiers, wife of the interim President Louis-Adolphe Thiers, of the third republic of France, that was declared soon after the downfall of Napoleon III, following his defeat and surrender to the Germans, in the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. Madame Thiers is reputed to have collected the pearls required for the necklace, almost piece by piece, from Germain Bapst of Messrs. Bapst of Paris, jewelers to the French royalty. Thiers died in 1877, and his widow, Madame Thiers bequeathed her husband's art collection as well as her famous three-strand pearl necklace, to the Louvre Museum, in 1880, under the terms of her last will.

The necklace was put on display, together with the French crown jewels, in the Galerie de Apollon, and fortunately escaped the 1887 dispersal of the French crown jewels, authorized by the National Assembly, which considered them as decadent symbols of the old order. Only certain pieces of jewelry that had some cultural or historic significance were retained, and the Madame Thiers pearl necklace was among them. The necklace was displayed in the Louvre for 41 years, but in 1922, authorities of the Louvre seem to have reassessed their position in respect of this valuable necklace, which they now saw as neither having any "artistic character" or "educational value," and sought permission of the  National Assembly to dispose of it, which was duly grated by a bill in 1922. Cartier purchased the necklace at the sale conducted by the Louvre in 1924, and put it on display at their Paris and New York headquarters. The necklace was later sold to an anonymous buyer in America, and is believed to have been dismantled subsequently, and the pearls incorporated in other pieces of jewelry.


Characteristics of the pearl necklace

The Madame Thiers three-strand pearl necklace was composed of 145 perfectly matched, rose-colored, oriental pearls, with a total weight of 2079 grains. Three of the largest pearls in the necklace weighed 51 grains, 39 grains and 36 grains respectively. The outermost strand consisted of 55 pearls, the middle strand of 49  pearls, and the innermost strand of 41 pearls. The largest pearls were situated along the median line of the necklace, on each strand. The arrangement of the pearls in each strand from the outer to the inner strands were as follows :- 27-1-27, 24-1-24 and 20-1-20, where number 1 represents the median pearl, and the equal numbers on either side, the number of pearls on either side of the median line. The pearls were mostly spherical or near-spherical in shape. The larger pearls were situated towards the lower end of the necklace, and the smaller pearls towards the clasp. Except for the color of the pearls, other characteristics such as the luster, orient, surface quality etc. of the pearls are not known. However, going by the description of the pearl necklace, and the enormous price fetched by the necklace at its sale in 1924, which approached nearly $700,000, equivalent to about $2,250,000 by today's standards, the characteristics of the pearls must be indeed exceptional.

Madame Thiers' Three Stranded Pearl Necklace

Madame Thiers' Three Stranded Pearl Necklace

Source: Oakland Tribune Magazine- September 1924

The clasp of the necklace to which the three strands are attached are set with 12 round-shaped diamonds



History of the pearl necklace

Source of the pearls in the necklace

The pearls on the Madame Thier's pearl necklace, was described as rose-colored oriental pearls. The term "oriental pearls" was used in the west in the past to refer to pearls originating in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, the hub of the international pearl trade since ancient times. The pearl banks of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar, were two of the most prolific sources of pearls in ancient times and had adorned the ornaments, dresses, crowns and other regal paraphernalia in the courts of kings and emperors of ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian. Mesopotamian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman etc. In the mid-19th century, when the necklace was created by Bapst, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar, were still producing sufficient quantities of pearls.

The main species of oyster on which the natural pearl industry of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar was based, was the bivalve mollusk Pinctada radiata. The oyster grows to a size of about 7 to 8 cm. The shells are pale yellow in color, and has 7 or 8 brownish radial bands. The lip of the shell is slightly pinkish in color. The Persian variety of Pinctada radiata, is slightly larger and darker than the Gulf of Mannar variety, and has a reddish lip. The oysters have a life span of about 7 to 8 years. The color of the nacre is usually white, but can also be cream or light pink. However, colors such as yellow, brown and violet are also occasionally found. Thus, the color of the pearls, are also usually white, but colors such as cream, yellow, pink or rose, brown, violet etc. also do occur sometimes. Thus white is the dominant color of pearls produced by Pinctada radiata, but rose pink, the color of the pearls on the Madame Thier's pearl necklace, are also sometimes produced. Pinctada radiata was well known for producing medium sized pearls, as well as seed pearls less than 2 mm in diameter, that occur as clusters inside the oyster. Rarely, Pinctada radiata can also produce large baroque pearls of extraordinary sizes.


Designing of the necklace - When and by whom was the necklace strung together?

The rose colored, oriental pearls that constituted the necklace was collected over a period of time, by Madame Thiers, some of them virtually piece by piece, from Germain Bapst. It was also reported that nearly a third of the 145 pearls were added by Mademoiselle Dosne, the sister of Madame Thiers. However, the identity of the jewelers who strung the pearls together, or when exactly they were put together are not known. Given the fact that most of the individual pearls were actually purchased from Bapst of Paris, one could safely assume that the necklace was also designed by them. However, the design of the clasp of the necklace seem to bear similarities to the signature clasps produced by Cartier's of Paris, founded in 1847 in Paris, France. Perhaps this may explain why Cartier's showed special interest in acquiring the necklace when it was auctioned by the Louvre in 1924.

The possible period when the necklace was designed was either between 1836 and 1840, when Louis-Adolphe Thiers was the 20th Prime Minister of France under Louis Philippe, the King of the French, or when he was the interim president of the third republic between 1871 and 1873. Madame Thiers married Adolphe Thiers in 1833, when she was just 15 years old, and he was the Minister of the Interior at that time. Even though her father was a rich financier, and she had the means of putting together a pearl collection, it is doubtful, whether as a teenager she would have been sufficiently motivated to take a special interest in jewels. Thus in all probability, Madame Thiers would have commissioned the pearl necklace only during the period 1871 to 1873, when her husband was the interim President of France. However, she must have initiated her collection much earlier, as putting together a collection of 145 natural rose colored oriental pearls, was no easy task, given the rarity of the color and size of the pearls.


Louis-Adolphe Thiers - A short biography

His birth and early life

Born to a family of cloth merchants, on April 16, 1797, at Marseille, France, Louis-Adolphe Thiers, was given a sound education, first at the lycee of Marseille, that laid the foundation for his future intellectual pursuits, breaking away from the family tradition of trade. He joined the faculty of law at Aix-en-Provence, and having successfully graduated, was called to the bar at the age of 23. Even though his degree in law would have been a stepping stone to an illustrious legal career, Adolph Thiers was more oriented to a career in writing, a powerful weapon that could sway public opinion, whose logical conclusion would be an illustrious career in politics. However, his days in the law faculty, also undoubtedly laid a solid foundation for his future political career, and he turned out to be a very effective speaker and debater, two qualities that go to make a successful politician, as well as a lawyer.


His interest in writing that establishes his identity as a leading literary figure in France

His interest in writing soon took him to Paris, where he joined as a contributor to the "Le Constitutionnel" At the end of every year he collected and published a volume of his articles. During these days his survival was assured by the magnanimity of Cotta, the well-known Stuttgart publisher and proprietor of "Le Constitutionnel" who paid him for his work. Thiers now began working on his celebrated publication, "Histoire de la revolution francaise" that established his identity as a leading literary figure, and subsequently helped him gain political fame. The first two volumes of the book appeared in 1823, and by 1827 the publication of the ten volumes of the book had been completed. The returns from the publication was not encouraging, but the book became immensely popular. His work was criticized by many authorities including Sir Thomas Calyle, for its extreme inaccuracy and prejudice.


Thiers starts an opposition newspaper "National" that helped to stir up the 1830 July revolution, that installed Louis Philippe as king

In 1830, Thiers with his law faculty friend Mignet, Armand Carrel and Sautelet, started a new opposition newspaper called the "National" whose writings helped to stir up the 1830 July revolution, that ousted the senior branch of the Bourbon monarchy, re-installed by the allies after the fall in power of Napoleon I in 1814, and proclaimed a successor from the cadet branch of the House of Bourbon, Louis Philippe as the King of the French in August 1830. During this revolution, Thiers came into prominence as a radical supporter of Louis Philippe, and was elected as deputy for Aix, and appointed to the Ministry of Finance.

Louis-Adolphe Thiers

Louis-Adolphe Thiers

His appointment as Minister of the Interior in 1832 and his marriage to Elise Dosne in 1833

In 1832, he was appointed as the Minister of the Interior, and while in this capacity he married his young wife, the 15-year old Elise Dosne in 1833, the daughter of a rich financier from Lyon. The marriage gave a boost to his political career, as he was able to secure financial backing in the pursuit of his political ambitions.


His appointment as Prime Minister in 1836, a post which he held till October 1840

On February 22, 1836, he became the president of the ministerial council, in effect the Prime Minister of France, a post which he held until 31st March 1939. He resigned and joined the parliamentary opposition, and on March 1, 1840 became the president of the council and foreign minister for the second time, a post which he held until October 29, 1840. It was during this short period as Prime Minister that he initiated the return of Napoleon's remains to France in 1840. His support for Egypt in the eastern crisis of 1840 led to his removal by the king as Prime Minister, who did not want to antagonize the great powers of the time.


His brief retirement from politics until 1845, during which period he reverts back to writing

After this dismissal as Prime Minister, Thiers took leave of politics, for some time and reverted back to his former career as a writer. In 1845, he published the first volume of his book, "Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire" In the beginning of 1846, he took to active politics again as the leader of the opposition group of the center left, and became a liberal opponent of the July monarchy. He then continued his work on the "Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire" that was published in 20 volumes between 1845 and 1862.


Thiers refuses the premiership offered by Louis Philippe, at the height of the February 1848, revolution

During the February revolution of 1848, precipitated by economic mismanagement and the deteriorating condition of the working classes, and a sustained campaign by Louis Bonaparte from England for the restoration of Bonapartism in France, Louis Philippe offered Thiers the premiership, which he refused, but soon both the King and Thiers were swept aside by the revolutionary tide, that led to the proclamation of the second republic on February 26, 1848. He was elected to the constituent assembly of 1848. Thiers as a leader of the rightwing liberals, was a bitter opponent of the socialists. Under the second republic, he took up the position of a conservative republican, a position which he maintained for the rest of his life.


Thiers supported Louis Bonaparte for the Presidency in the 1848 elections, but opposed him when he tried to manipulate the constitution and install himself as Emperor

He supported Louis Bonaparte for the presidency in the December 10, 1848, elections that saw Louis Bonaparte being elected as the President of the second republic by a landslide victory, polling 5.5 million votes, but subsequently withdrew his support when Louis Bonaparte tried to manipulate the constitution and have a plebiscite installing himself as Emperor. Thiers was arrested during the December 1851 coup d'etat, and was incarcerated at the prison of Mazas, before being exiled out of the country. However, he was allowed to return the following summer. He retired from politics again during the next decade, concentrating on the completion of the 20 volumes of his book "History of the Consulate and the Empire," which was completed in 1862. He re-entered politics in 1863, elected by a Parisian constituency, and for the next seven years was the chief speaker among a small group of anti-imperialists in the French chamber, who dared to oppose Napoleon III.


The great display of statesmanship by Thiers during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, that led to his triumphant re-entry to politics

In 1870, Thiers strongly opposed war with Prussia, in spite of being accused of lack of patriotism. However, his stand was clearly vindicated when France suffered defeat after defeat in the war within a period of few weeks. During the course of the war he urged for peace negotiations, and refused to take part in a government of National Defense, that was determined to continue the war. His statesmanship was clearly brought to the fore, when he undertook a foreign tour of Britain, Russia, Italy and Austria, in September/October 1870, in the hope of obtaining some form of mediation, and in his attempts to persuade Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and the Government of National Defense to negotiate, which elevated his profile as a true statesman. Finally, when Napoleon III was defeated and forced to surrender to the Germans, France declared the 3rd Republic, and Thiers once again triumphantly re-entered the political scene.


Thiers elected as  head of a provisional government on February 17, 1871

In the national elections that followed the disastrous war, Thiers was elected in 26 departments, and on February 17, 1871, Thiers became the head of a provisional government, known as the "Head of the executive power of the Republic until the institutions of France are decided." One of the first acts of his interim presidency was the consolidation of peace with Germany, that was voted by a margin of five to one in the national assembly on March 1, 1871.


The greatest challenge faced by Thiers just one month after assuming office as interim president

Just one month after taking over office as the interim president of France, Thiers had to face the greatest challenge of his political career, when  a major insurrection began in Paris, after he ordered the army, to seize several hundred canons in the possession of the Paris National Guard. Thiers shifted his government to Versailles until the matter was resolved. Taking advantage of the absence of government in Paris, the Parisians elected a radical republican and socialist city government on March 26, which they referred to as the "Paris Commune." The stage was now set for a confrontation between the two sides. Fighting broke out in April between the government troops and the fighters of the Paris Commune, and continued throughout April and May, with neither side willing to back down or negotiate. The limited civil war came to a head on May 21, when government forces broke through the city's defenses. and a week of street fighting, known as the "bloody week" began. This resulted in the worst massacre in Europe, between the French revolution and the Russian revolution. Thousands of Parisians died in fighting or were summarily executed by courts martial. When the war ended, Thiers ordered the legal prosecution of the thousands of prisoners taken by the army. Around 12,000 prisoners were tried by special courts martial, of whom 23 were executed and 4,000 found guilty and exiled to New Caledonia, from where the last prisoners were released after amnesty in 1880. The blame for the massacres and the repression has always been placed on Thiers, and was responsible for not only overshadowing his memory in the history of France but also belittling his previous achievements as a great statesman. However, what puzzles many is how the blame for the enormous massacres committed could be placed entirely on the shoulders of one individual, who talked the language of peace with his enemies the Germans, to spare the lives of the French soldiers in a disastrous war. It is difficult to understand how a man of peace could have been accused of committing such atrocities on his own people. As the Head-of-State, undoubtedly he should share part of the blame, but a greater portion of the blame no doubt goes to the commanders of his army who seem to have gone completely out of control.


Thiers rules France as interim President, until May 24, 1873, when his government is defeated in a no confidence motion

Having overcome the initial challenges to his rule, Thiers set about with the task of governance and resurrecting the war torn economy of the country. He was against the free trade ideas that prospered under the empire, and was a confirmed protectionist. He advocated compulsory military service. In January 1872, he formally tendered his resignation, but was not accepted, even though most of the parties in the national assembly disliked him. Thus his continuation as interim president was considered a necessary evil by most of the parties, until they found a suitable alternative. In the year 1873, attacks on Thiers by the royalist majority in the National Assembly kept mounting, who feared his popularity among the electorate and his future presidential ambitions. In April 1873, the royalists introduced and passed legislation in the National Assembly, to curb the executive powers of the president. An election in Paris soon after that, resulted in the election of a far left candidate, a radical republican, by the name of Barodet. The Royalists led by Duc de Broglie, who were genuinely concerned about the country's movement too far to the left, then moved a motion of no confidence in the government, which was carried by a majority of 16 votes, in an assembly of 704 deputies. Thiers at once tendered his resignation on May 24, 1873, which was accepted by all parties in the house, and a professional soldier, Marshal Patrice de MacMahon, was elected as the provisional president.  

Louis-Adolphe Thiers

Louis-Adolphe Thiers

After relinquishing power as interim president, Thiers continues to play a role in shaping the destinies of his country, until his death on September 3, 1877.

After his fall from power, Thiers continued to sit in the national assembly. In 1875, the national assembly approved the long awaited constitution of the third republic, known as the "Constitution of 1875" that put in place the constitutional structures of the Third Republic, and the creation of a constitutionally-based President of the Third Republic. The same constitution also created the lower house known as the Chamber of Deputies and the upper house known as the Senate. Thiers continued to sit in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, although he rarely spoke at its sessions. Patrice de MacMahon became the first constitutionally-based President of the Third Republic, a post which he held from 1875 to 1879. During the duc de Broglie's 2nd term of office, as the Prime Minister of France from May 17, 1877 to November 23, 1877, Thiers was among the 363 deputies who voted for the no confidence motion against de Broglie, that led to the fall of his government. In the general elections that followed, Thiers played a significant part in the electoral campaign as an ally of the Republicans. However, in the midst of these electoral campaign on September 3, 1877, he suffered a fatal stroke at St. Germain-en-Laye, and passed away, and did not live to see the republicans back in control of the House of Deputies. He was buried in Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. He was survived by his wife, Elise Dosne, who together with her sister Mademoiselle Felicie Dosne, were his constant companions. He left no children, and his only daughter long predeceased him. In spite of all his shortcomings, Louis-Adolphe Thiers has gone down in the history of France, as a great statesman who steered his country through the most difficult period of a disastrous war with Germany, who spoke the language of peace as opposed to the confrontational stand taken by most of his contemporaries, and laid a solid foundation for the republican form of government in France, that survives up to this day.



 Madame Elise Thiers nee Elise Dosne

Madame Elise Thiers was the wife of the great statesman of France, Louis-Aolphe Thiers, whom she married at the age of 15 years. Elise Thiers was the daughter of Alexis Alexandre Dosne, a rich financier from Lyon, and his wife Euridicie. Elise who was born in 1818 married the much older Thiers in 1833, when he was 36 years old. In spite of the wide difference in their ages, the marriage turned out to be a successful one, and Elise and her sister Felicie became his constant companions, throughout the tumultuous years of his political career, as well as during his brief periods of retirement from political life when he reverted back to his literary pursuits. Elise stood by her husband during the difficult periods of her husbands political career, and encouraged him during moments of total despair. After her husbands death in 1877, Elise collected and compiled her husbands speeches, which were published in many volumes. Felicie Dosne, Elise's sister also published a work on his brother-in-law Adolphe Thiers in 1901, known as "Notes et Souvenirs, 1870-73."

1834 Portrait of Madame Thiers by Ingres

1834 Portrait of Madame Thiers by Ingres


Madame Elise Thiers bequeaths her husbands art collection and her pearl necklace to the Louvre museum in 1880

Madame Elise Thiers died 3 years after her husbands death in 1880. In her last will she bequeathed her husbands art collection, and her valuable pearl necklace to the Louvre museum. It is said that the art collection comprising 1470 separate items, was ridiculed by the Goncourt brothers as a "frightful hotchpotch of bourgeois art" and was accepted by the Louvre only reluctantly. Madame Thiers' famous pearl necklace was put on display together with the French crown jewels, in the Galerie d'Apollon. In 1887, when the French crown jewels were dispersed on the orders of President Jules Grevy, after the Chamber of Deputies decided to disperse all decadent symbols of the French monarchy and the empire, the "Madam Thiers' Pearl Necklace" was spared, probably because of its recent origin, or because of its extraordinary value or because it was considered to have some cultural and historic significance.



The Louvre decides to dispose of the "Madame Thiers' Pearl Necklace" in 1922

The "Madame Thiers' Pearl Necklace" was on display in the Galerie d'Apollon of the Louvre museum for 41 years until 1922. The authorities then reassessed the status of the exhibit, and surprisingly decided that it had neither "artistic character" nor "educational value" and sought the permission of the Chamber of Deputies for its disposal. A draft bill was passed in 1922, which allowed the museum to dispose of the valuable jewel.



The sale of the "Madame Thiers' Pearl Necklace" by the Louvre on June 16, 1924

The sale of the "Madame Thiers' Pearl Necklace" finally took place on June 16, 1924, in the Salle Denon of the Louvre Museum, in the presence of more than a thousand spectators. The necklace consisted of three strands of pearls and a diamond studded clasp. Initially, according to the format of the auction, each of the three strands and the clasp were called out separately and knocked down to the highest bidders. The longest strand containing 55 pearls fetched Fr.5,030,000 and was knocked down to Oscar Kahn. The middle strand containing 49 pearls, was purchased by L. Henry for Fr.3,220,000 and the shortest strand containing 41 pearls was bought by Baron Lopez de Tarragoya for Fr.2,680,000. The clasp was sold to one Paul Esmerian. However, immediately after that the sale was annulled, and the auction of the necklace was held again, this time the entire three-stranded necklace and diamond clasp, as a single piece. It is not known whether the previous bidders for individual strands, were able to take part in the second bidding process. However, this time the necklace was knocked down to an absentee bid for Fr. 11,286,000, equivalent to $700,000. It later turned out that the successful bidder was actually Hemsy and Lopez, who had been commissioned by Cartier to bid for the necklace.  The necklace was later exhibited by Cartier in Rue de la Paix, in Paris, as well as its new headquarters in Fifth Avenue in New York, that was purchased in 1917 for $100 in cash and a double-stranded natural pearl necklace worth $1 million.



Cartier pays a tax of $140,000 to take the Madame Thiers' Pearl Neklace to America.

Cartier had to pay an import duty of 20% on the value of the pearl necklace, to take it to their headquarters in New York. 20% of $700,000 works out to $140,000, which would have been the amount they were called upon to pay when taking the necklace to America. Thus, the value of the necklace, would have appreciated to $840,000 on its journey from Paris to New York. Thus if the necklace was to be sold in America, the prospective buyer would have to part with a cool million to take possession of the necklace.



What were the possible causes for the enormous increase in pearl values in the early 20th-century ?

In the year 1880, when Madame Thiers bequeathed her pearl necklace to the Louvre Museum, its value was apprised at less than $60,000. An appraisal in 1905 put its value at $100,000. However, at the auction in 1924, the necklace was sold for $700,000. According to Dr. George F. Kunz, the foremost authority on pearls in the early 20th-century, the reasons for the enormous increase in pearl values was two fold. One was the change of fashion trends in the world, that made pearls more popular than diamonds and colored stones. Pearls were said to be more popular because they could be worn at all times of the day, while diamonds and colored stones could only be worn at night. The second was the vast increase in the wealth of the world during previous thirty years, that saw a tenfold increase in demand for pearls. A third factor that might have also played a part in increasing the demand for natural pearls, was the scarcity of such pearls due to a drastic drop in production; one of the traditional sources of pearls since ancient times, the Gulf of Mannar, already abandoned, and the other most important source the Persian Gulf, seeing a rapid decline in production, and threatened with closure due to increase in production of cultured pearls.



The fate of the Madame Thiers' Pearl Necklace ?

The fate of the Madame Thier's Pearl Necklace after it was brought by Cartier to New York, is not known. It appears the necklace was sold to an anonymous buyer, and was subsequently dismantled and incorporated into other pieces of jewelry.



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Back to Famous Pearls

Related :-

1) Barbara Hutton/Marie Antoinette Pearl Necklace

2) Baroda Pearl Necklace

3) Duchess of Windsor/Queen Mary Pearl Neckace

4) Umm Kulthum's Pearl Necklace



References :-

1) Cartier - by Hans Nadelhoffer, page 118

2) Famous Pearls and Collections - Thiers' Necklace, Chapter 16, The Book of the Pearl - by G. F. Kunz

3) Adolphe Thiers - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 4) Who Will Wear Thiers' Pearls ? Oakland Tribune Magazine, September 28, 1924



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