Cut-Steel Jewelry

A cut-steel button via the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a fabulous permanent exhibit on jewelry and gemstones. The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery boasts tiaras of royal provenance, historical cameos, precious gemstones and other treasures. During my last visit, I truly enjoyed learning about their cut-steel jewelry. Cut-steel is a brightly polished metal with faceted decoration. What makes it unique is that the jewelry glitters like a diamond without a single gemstone in its settings.

According to Geoffrey Munn in Tiaras: A History of Splendour, this type of jewelry was popular from the second half of the 18th century until 1900. When worn in candlelight (can you imagine a 19th century ball lit by candlelight?) the polished facets of the metal sparkled like diamonds. Munn stressed that cut-steel jewelry was not considered paste and would have been quite valuable in its day.

Napoleon’s first consort, Joséphine, owned two suites of cut-steel jewelry. It’s possible that her cut-steel tiaras are the same ones worn today by the ladies of the Swedish royal family. 

Crown Prince Oscar and Princess Joséphine of Leuchtenberg during their wedding. Photo of painting by Alexis Daflos, the Royal Collections.

How are we certain of this fact? Well, Empress Joséphine’s granddaughter and namesake, Joséphine of Leuchtenberg (the daughter of her son Eugène de Beauharnais), married Crown Prince Oskar of Sweden in 1823, eventually becoming Queen Josefina of Sweden. Eugène’s sister, Hortense de Beauharnais who was the mother of Napoleon III, did not have any daughters. Presumably, the future Queen Josefina inherited her aunt Hortense’s cut-steel tiaras.

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It’s highly likely that the Napoleonic Cut-Steel Tiara, worn above by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, might have been one of the cut-steel tiaras Joséphine of Leuchtenberg brought with her to Sweden.


Tiaras: A History of Splendour by Geoffrey C. Munn

The Victoria and Albert Museum