Napoleon and Josephine’s Engagement Ring
Sometimes the value of an item is above and beyond the mere sum of its parts, and a particularly good example is the engagement ring given in 1796 by a young French soldier to his fiancée.
Napoleon Bonaparte was only 26 years of age at the time; Josephine was a 32 year old widow, whose first husband had been executed during the Revolution. They were very much in love, and he often sent love letters to her while out on campaigns, sometimes twice a day.
“Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed,” one letter says. “My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude.”
Her previous marriage had been a tempestuous one, and their liaison caused a society scandal. In spite of this, he adored her, and presented her with a humble diamond and sapphire ring on a simple band. Each stone is pear shape, and are set with the points facing in opposite directions. This style of ring is called “Toi et Moi”, entirely fitting for an engagement! At the time Napoleon was merely an up-and-coming officer, and was certainly not rich; the ring would have cost what was a lot of money to him! They married in 1796, but the marriage struggled, despite their ardour. Both were unfaithful, and they eventually divorced because of her inability to provide him with an heir. However they stayed devoted to each other, her name being his last word when he died on St Helena in 1821.
It was sold at auction in 2013, fetching almost a million dollars. The purchaser is unknown. The ring had been estimated at only twenty thousand dollars, as the auctioneers decided to ignore its historic value and base their estimate on the value of the diamond and sapphire!