Josephine’s Missing Jewels as Napoleon Hits Big Screen

As Ridley Scott’s Napoleon opens in UK cinemas, Josephine’s missing jewels have come under the spotlight for a Yorkshire jeweller.

Ogden of Harrogate is a longstanding jewellery store established in 1893, with a rich family history. The business continues in the same family, today run by brothers, Robert and Ben Ogden.

Robert Ogden explained: “We have newspaper cuttings that detail how our ancestor, our great uncle Captain William Ogden, who was a pearl and diamond merchant, had bought Empress Josephine’s famous diamond necklace in 1933. We also have archival evidence of a tiara which belonged to Josephine that was sold to a lady who wanted a statement piece for King George VI’s coronation. It would be incredible to find out where both of these pieces are today, or who has them now.”

The new Ridley Scott film has re-energised the Ogden’s family interest in finding out what happened to Josephine’s jewels.

The Daily Mirror cutting dated December 22 1933 said Josephine’s necklace was bought by Captain William Ogden at a “price which was not divulged, but which is said to run into thousands of pounds.” The article quoted a ‘member’ of the Ogden firm saying, “It is a wonderful range of diamonds of fine colour, and they are in the old gold setting of the period. They are in a red leather case with a crown engraved and the initial ‘J’ underneath.”

A further story in the Nottingham Evening Post on December 22, 1933, said the necklace was purchased from a ‘French source’ in London. It quoted Captain Ogden’s manager, Mr K.C. Drayson saying: “There’s no doubt that it was given to her by Napoleon. Negotiations have been going on for some time, and the necklace was brought from France some weeks ago.”

Mr Drayson also described the necklace, as “a wonderful range of single stones set in gold.” He added it was “one of the world’s dead romances come to life again.

In a separate incident, also in the 1930s, the jewellers sold a tiara once owned by Josephine.

According to the late Harrogate historian, Malcolm Neesam, Ogden of Harrogate were busy with George VI’s coronation. Malcolm wrote: “The Company acquired the famous diamond coronet which had been created at the command of the Emperor Napoleon for his wife Josephine. The coronet was sold to a Lady of title, who wore it to great effect at the Coronation.”

As a jeweller with a 130 year-history, the Ogden family business has sold many pieces associated with aristocrats, royalty and film stars. London customers included Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, and Sophia Loren. Earlier this year, Ogden of Harrogate hosted an exhibition on James R Ogden, who founded the business in 1893, who valued the gold in Tutankhamun’s coffin, and worked with many leading archaeologists of his day.

Napoleon Bonaparte's relationship with Josephine de Beauharnais was a passionate and tumultuous affair that left an indelible mark on both of their lives. They first met in 1795, when Napoleon was a rising military officer and Josephine a charming socialite. Despite their initial attraction, their courtship faced numerous obstacles, including Josephine's previous marriage and Napoleon's demanding military career. However, their love prevailed, and they married in 1796.

However, Josephine's own infidelities and rumoured affairs created strains in their marriage, causing Napoleon considerable anguish. Their relationship remains a symbol of passion, ambition, and the complexities of love amidst the challenges of power and fame.

Robert Ogden said: “It would be wonderful to find out who owns Josephine’s jewellery now, it is such a romantic symbol of one of the world’s greatest love affairs.”

November 30, 2023 — Robert Ogden