Iconic Collections: Marjorie Merriweather
by Sasha t on Sep 06, 2023
Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress to the Post Cereal Company fortune (later to become General Foods), was one of the most notable collectors of jewelry of the 20th century. Her wealth and spectacular taste allowed her to acquire pieces from the world's leading jewelers and artisans and her collection was recognized not only for its size but also for its quality and the historical significance of many pieces.
At age 27, Post became the wealthiest woman in the world following her father’s death and subsequent ownership through inheritance of the Postum Cereal Company. However, this was a tricky situation because, at this time, women weren’t even allowed to vote, so Post ran the company with her former husband, E.F. Hutton. During this time the Postum Cereal Company, saw a 25-fold increase in stock price due to smart acquisitions and deep consumer insight. Perhaps Post is most known, in business, for her shrewd eye when it came to the acquisition of General Foods, owned by Clarence Birdseye (sound familiar?), a frozen foods company. It was her idea to acquire General Foods and amplify the reach of frozen foods. At the time, most grocery stores didn’t have a large amount of freezer space - but as demand for these products grew, so did space in the stores. Post had a large part in the frozen food renaissance that became a life-changing convenience to the women charged with running their homes.
Post had two passions in life - philanthropy and jewelry, and she invested a lot in both. From the mid-1920s to her death, she dedicated time and money to the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts of America, many cultural institutions near her home in Northern Virginia, and many other worthy institutions. In the 1930s, during the Depression, Post set up the Marjorie Post Hutton Canteen to fed underprivileged women and children in a comfortable environment in New York City. She believed so in the power of giving that many of the pieces of jewelry that we will explore today were left to the Smithsonian Institute.
But we’re not here to talk about philanthropy or frozen foods, we’re here to talk about jewelry, and boy, did Marjorie Merriweather Post have an eye for it. Her collection included many historic pieces, some even with royal provenance. Post was also a dedicated patron of the prominent jewelry houses of her time, including Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, and David Webb. Her collection contained numerous examples of their craftsmanship, with pieces ranging from exquisite diamond and sapphire brooches to ornate, gem-encrusted tiaras. Post had a preference for emeralds, diamonds, and rubies, but her collection also included pearls, sapphires, amethysts, aquamarines, and many other precious gemstones.
The Napoleon Diamond Necklace
Post owned the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, an exquisite piece commissioned by Napoleon I of France for his second wife, Empress Marie-Louise, to celebrate the birth of their son in 1811. This necklace features 28 mine-cut diamonds set in silver and gold.
The Maximilian Emerald Ring
Another noteworthy piece in her collection is the Maximilian Emerald Ring, featuring a 21.04-carat emerald. This piece carries a history as colorful as the gemstone itself; it was originally owned by Mexico's ill-fated emperor, Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph. The emerald was set on a ring for Emperor Maximilian Joseph, but after his death changed hands and eventually came into the possession of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress, who got the ring reset by Cartier incorporating diamonds and subsequently donated it to the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Marie Louise Diadem
Well first of all, what is a Diadem? A Diadem is a headpiece. A crown is a full circle headpiece that usually sits atop the head that can be worn by men or women, a tiara is a smaller piece that is usually only worn by women and a diadem is a band style crown that can be worn by both men and women. The Napoleon diadem is famously adorned with turquoise, but the truth is that it was originally adorned with emeralds. Napoleon chartered the emerald diadem, along with a necklace, earrings and comb, in 1810 as a wedding gift to Marie Louise. After her death, the diadem was passed down through her family until they eventually sold it. During century long journey, the diadem lost its emeralds and gained 79 Persian turquoise gems, but ts 1,006 original diamonds remained. The Smithsonian states that the emeralds were sold to Van Cleef & Arpels in 1953. They are also given credit for replacing the stones in the diadem with Turquoise stones and ultimately selling it to a one, Marjorie Merriweather Post.
The Blue Heart Diamond
The Blue Heart Diamond was found in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. It is a nearly 31 carat heart-shaped, brilliant cut blue diamond that was faceted by Parisian jeweler Atanik Eknayan in 1910. The stone was purchased in 1910 by Pierre Cartier who set the stone as the centerpiece of a lily-of-the-valley necklace. This necklace was sold to an Argentinian family who held onto the necklace until 1953 when it was sold to Van Cleef & Arpels who reset it into a pendant also featured a 2.05 carat pink diamond and another blue diamond weighing 3.81 carats from the original Cartier necklace
(Van Cleef & Arpels use of the Blue Heart Diamond)
By 1959, the diamond found its way to the hand of Harry Winston, who mounted it in its present platinum ring setting, surrounded by 25 round brilliant cut colorless diamonds with a total weight of 1.63 carats. Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the ring from Winston and gifted the Blue Heart Diamond to the National Gem Collection in 1964. In 1997, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) graded the Blue Heart as a natural fancy deep blue diamond with a clarity grade of VS-2 (very slightly included). The blue color is due to trace amounts of boron replacing some of the carbon atoms in the diamond's crystal structure.
Post began gifting her jewels to The Smithsonian Institution in 1964 and urged her friends to do the same. Upon her death in 1973, Post bequeathed many of her remaining jewels to the Institution, while others are housed at her former residence, Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, in Washington D.C., which she left to the public as a museum.
While much of her collection has been documented, specifics about individual pieces may not be as detailed due to the sheer size and breadth of her collection. For more detailed information about particular pieces, such as specific sapphires, one might need to consult with the curators at the Smithsonian Institution or the Hillwood Estate.
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