A History of Sapphires in Culture: Joséphine, Empress of the French

Throughout time, sapphires have been revered for their beauty, their strength and durability, and the perceived powers of wellness and protection. In a celebration of the special cultural relevance of sapphires, we have gathered together some of our favorite stories to share of historical sapphires through all cultures. Part IX continues Joséphine, Empress of the French.

Joséphine, Empress of the French and Wife of Napoleon Bonaparte – 1763–1814

Joséphine was a widow and mistress to several prominent political figures in France until she met Napoléon and their tempestuous love affair began.  Soon after their wedding in 1796, Napoléon left to lead the French army in Italy, where he became a collector on a truly imperial scale.  So much art, sculpture, and jewelry were looted from the Italians that they gave him yet another title, Il Gran Ladrone (The Great Thief).

It is said that Napoléon lavished Josephine with jewels–many of which were the spoils of his military campaigns–but others believe he was a reluctant provider, as he frequently and bitterly complained about her excessive spending habits.

We do know that both the Emperor and Empress maintained fabulous collections of gemstones.  One of Joséphine’s favorites was the parure of Queen Marie Antoinette, a seven-piece jewelry set containing approximately 29 sapphires—many larger than 20 carats.