How do famous gems and beaded jewelry pieces get their names? Many are named after their owners, or after a famous place or incident. The Hortensia Diamond was named after Hortense de Beauharnais, a French woman who led an adventurous and illustrious life… but she never owned the Hortensia Diamond. There’s no record of her having even worn it!
So why is the Hortensia Diamond named after her?
Hortense was the daughter of a Parisian Vicomte. Her parents’ marriage was unhappy, and ended in divorce. Hortense and her mother, Marie Rose Josephe Tascher de la Pagerie (say that one three times fast!), lost their social standing and most of their possessions, including their beaded jewelry, and moved back in with Marie Rose’s parents on the island of Martinique.
They may have gotten out just in time. Hortense’s father didn’t survive the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution.
After enough time passed, Marie Rose (who now went by the name of Josephine) and Hortense moved back to Paris, and began to make a name for themselves once again in French society. Josephine caught the eye of the already famous general Napoleon Bonaparte, who lavished her with gifts of beaded jewelry, and married her.
This made Hortense Napoleon’s step-daughter. When Napoleon became Emperor, he also came into ownership of the French Crown Jewels, including the 20.53 carat Hortensia Diamond. Maybe the flat, peach-pink stone was named after the girl during this time, due to her love of gems and beaded jewelry.
Hortense married Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. In 1806, Napoleon appointed Louis as King of Holland, making Hortense the country’s queen.
In this picture, we see Hortense bedecked in beaded jewelry and a tiara. But even as Queen of Holland, when she had a treasure trove of gems and beaded jewelry, she had no direct connection to the Hortensia Diamond.
These were tumultuous years for Hortense. She and her husband were so unhappy that, like her mother, she eventually divorced. This happened during Napoleon’s exile on Elba. Divorced or not, Hortense remained politically active, and when Napoleon escaped exile, she supported his return to power.
When Napoleon failed, Hortense was punished for supporting him with exile from France. She wandered Europe for awhile, before settling in Switzerland in 1817.
Most scholars think the Hortensia Diamond was named after her between 1806 and 1817, but no one knows why. It’s just one of those unsolved mysteries surrounding famous gems and beaded jewelry!