Born in Massachussets in 1853, Mariette (Minnie) Stevens was left in 1872, upon the death of her father, as a principal beneficiary of an estate valued in excess of $10,000,000 - an extraordinary sum at the time. Her ambitious mother propelled her entry into London society, and in 1878 she married the Right Honourable Sir Arthur Paget, a handsome officer in the Guards Brigade. It was a prime example of intermarriage of the wealthy American heiress with titled British aristocracy, and a smart and tactical move. Numerous connections were opened up, to the extent that the Prince of Wales was godfather to the couple's first son. Minnie was described as 'one of the most brilliant leaders of society, daring in her entertainment and original in her dress', yet was also later renowned as a philanthropist and war nurse, respected for her services in the Boer War, the Great War and both Balkan conflicts.
She was probably best remembered, however, for her costume at the Duchess of Devonshire's Ball, thrown on the 2nd July 1897, the year of the Diamond Jubilee.
When Lady Paget entered what was to be one of the most ostentatious occasions in England that year, her appearance clearly caused a storm. The invitation, which stipulated that dress should be 'allegorical or historical costume before 1815' was the most coveted in London, and the guest list was an aristocratic role call. Minnie's choice of character as Cleopatra offered the perfect opportunity for an extraordinary outfit dripping in jewels.
According to Geoffrey Munn, in his 'Tiaras' book, 'her costume, made by Worth, was of black and gold covered with jewellery. Amongst them was the diamond riviere from the French crown jewels.'Although it is extremely difficult to prove a connection with the diamond necklace offered here, Minnie was world renowned for her extraordinary collection of superb jewels which was known to include such royal pieces. The evening of the Devonshire ball, pinned at the waist of her costume, can clearly be seen the centrepiece of Empress Eugenie's 'great girdle', also sold in 1887.
Whether associated with the original French Crown Jewels, or displayed alongside them within such a superbly glamorous and 'historical' occasion as the Devonshire Ball, this important diamond necklace certainly deserves its place amongst equally illustrious jewels.
Lord Twining, A History of the Crown Jewels of Europe, London, 1960
G. Munn, Tiaras, A History of Splendour, Antique Collectors' Club Ltd, 2001
Diamants, Perles et Pierreries Provenant de la Collection Dite Des Joyaux de la Couronne, Paris 1887