Beyond Priceless: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Jewellery Collection

Marjorie Merriweather Post, an indomitable force of elegance and philanthropy, graced the world with her unwavering commitment to both style and substance. A pioneering businesswoman, Legion of Honor recipient, and one of the greatest jewellery collectors of the 20th century, Post’s legacy is woven into the fabric of American history. 

Giulio de Blaas, (Marjorie Post) and daughter Nedenia Hutton (Dina Merrill) 1929 / Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Photographed by Brian Searby

Born in Illinois in 1887, Marjorie was the only daughter of C. W. Post, and upon his death in 1914, at the age of 27 she became the owner and director of the rapidly growing Postum Cereal Company (renamed General Foods in 1929). Her immense wealth, paired with a sharp eye, led to a lifelong pursuit of collecting extraordinary and historically important objects, many of which were later donated to some of the world’s most important institutions.

Considered to be one of the most significant American collectors of Cartier jewellery in history, Post amassed an incredible collection of creations by the Maison. The most famous piece is the emerald, enamel, and diamond brooch that she acquired though Cartier London in the 1920s, pictured in her portrait by Giulio de Blaas. Post loved pieces with connections to history, and this impressive brooch was no exception; six of the most prominent gemstones are said to hail from the 17th century Mughal Empire.

Post was also a serious collector, avid student, and connoisseur of Russian art and objects. In 1926, Post purchased her first Fabergé piece, an amethyst and diamond set box. Five years later, her daughter Eleanor gifted her the Catherine the Great Egg (one of two Russian Imperial Eggs she would come to acquire). The craftsmanship and famous jeweller’s connection to the imperial family held great allure and she continued to collect in this area throughout her life, amassing close to 90 Fabergé pieces. Another famous acquisition was the Romanov Nuptial Crown, created in 1840 using stones taken from ornaments that belonged to Catherine the Great, and worn by Russian imperial brides. This and the designs by Fabergé remain part of the collection at Hillwood in Washington, D.C.

Merriweather Post acted not only as a collector but as the temporary custodian of notable examples of 19th century French jewellery of royal provenance. She acquired them with the intention to donate them, ensuring that these significant objects were shared and treasured by people around the world. Some of the most remarkable pieces were by Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris, court jeweller to Napoleon Bonaparte. The Marie Louise Diadem was commissioned in 1810 and given to Empress Marie Louise on her marriage to Napoleon. The diadem was one piece of a parure that also included a necklace and earrings (now at the Louvre). Originally set with vivid green emeralds, the diadem passed down through direct descendants and was acquired by Van Cleef & Arpels. The emeralds were removed and replaced with turquoise, and the piece was purchased by Post in the 1960s. After wearing and enjoying it for a few years, she donated the piece to the Smithsonian in 1971. Another remarkable example within Post’s collection was The Napoleon Diamond Necklace, also made by Nitot for Empress Marie Louise. It was a gift to her from Napoleon in 1811 to mark the birth of his much-awaited son. Marie Louise bequeathed the necklace to her sister-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria. Eventually, Harry Winston acquired the necklace and sold it to Post in 1960. Two years later, she donated it to the Smithsonian. 

Marjorie Merriweather Post not only defined an era with her impeccable taste and social grace but also left an indelible mark through her profound dedication to charitable causes. She was a visionary whose philanthropic endeavours continue to inspire generations to reach for the stars while keeping their feet firmly grounded in the service of humanity.

Lauren Boustridge / Senior Jewels Specialist

Banner Image: Catherine the Great Easter Egg by Fabergé / Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens Photographed by Bruce White

February 2024