When jewelry shopping in San Miguel de Allende I had the best team, my three kids. The youngest knew all about stones and would enchant the female sales team asking questions about the origins of their jewels. My older son would do what he did best, act bored while thrusting his body weight against the counter in an attempt to nap. My daughter would simply nonchalantly check out the piece in review to utter “Mom already has something like that.”
It worked great and I’d get deep discounts just to get the army of Toones to stop disrupting the shop’s business!
However, while I was playing in the jewelry little league, an emperor and the richest woman in the US found the most storied, and best, jewelry purchase in Mexico!
Today in the Smithsonian sits an immense 21 carat, herbal green emerald ring known as the “Maximilian Emerald Ring” from its one time owner, Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, who was installed as the French Emperor of Mexico in 1864.
During Maximilian’s reign the United States was in the midst of the devastating Civil War. Soon as the Civil War ended in 1865, the U.S. demanded the withdrawal of the French troops from Mexico and continued supplying arms to support Mexico since French Maximilian had supported the South.
The French withdrew their forces, but Emperor Maximilian foolishly decided to stay on and was executed by firing squad in 1867.
His wife, Empress Carlota (along with the emerald ring), were then in Europe unsuccessfully trying to convince the Pope to support her husband’s reign. Learning of his death she spent her remaining years deranged, frequently rowing a boat on a lake in her mad attempt to “get back to Mexico”.
According to legend the very same large Maximilian Emerald is believed to have belonged to Cuauhtemoc, the last king of the Aztec Empire, who was killed trying to defend his homeland from the Spanish in the 1525. Today, Cuauhtemoc is one of the most revered figures in Mexican History, considered as a symbol of bravery and courage against the Spanish Conquistadors.
If the great emerald did indeed belong to Cuauhtemoc its source must be one of the three ancient emerald mines of Colombia, the only source of emeralds during that period. Large quantities of these emeralds eventually found their way to neighboring Mexico, where emeralds were considered as sacred stones and the indigenous used them as ornaments, offered them to their Gods in temples, or buried them together with their dead.
Another possibility is that the emerald actually belonged to Emperor Maximilian, purchased by him in 1860, when he made a trip to the Brazilian rain forests pursuing his botany studies, a subject that had fascinated him since his childhood. Later he got the emerald cut and mounted on a ring for his Empress Carlota.
Upon Carlota’s death in 1927 the emerald ring was sold to Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress, businesswoman and art collector.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was born in 1887, the only child of Charles Post and his wife Ella Merriweather. Her father founded the largest food-manufacturing empire in early twentieth century. Being his only child, he trained his daughter in all aspects of the company, preparing his daughter to take over the rapidly expanding family business that she increased by introducing frozen fish to America’s dinner menus.
Between the business, multiple marriages and motherhood Marjorie acquired lots of art. The Hillwood Museum in Washington DC features much of her collection including the Russian Faberge Eggs.
Marjorie is the mother to frequent mid-century game show celebrity, the actress Dina Merrill.
One of Marjorie’s many mansions she built is now owned by Donald Trump, the infamously recently FBI raided Mar-a-lago.
As Marjorie was leaving the coronation party for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, she noticed the emerald had fallen out of the setting. “So they immediately called the palace,” recalled Marjorie’s granddaughter Ellen Charles. “I suppose only at Buckingham Palace would they find the stone.”
Emerald is May’s official birthstone with the visible inclusions referred to as jardins (for gardens like our town’s square). The imperfections give any large emerald a unique character.
Marjorie got the Maximilian Emerald remounted in a ring by Cartier incorporating diamonds and by 1964 donated it to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.