Empress Joséphine of France was so passionate about roses, she made it her life’s work to cultivate as many different varieties as possible in her garden. On Joséphine’s behalf, her husband Napoleon ordered his warship commanders to search all seized vessels for plants that could be sent to Malmaison, the couple’s country home near Paris. Shipments from an English nursery, one of Joséphine’s major suppliers, were even allowed to cross a naval blockade when England and France were at war.
From 1803 until her death in 1814, Joséphine cultivated nearly 250 different species and varieties of roses, many of them new to France. She produced the first written history of the cultivation of roses, and is believed to have hosted the first rose exhibition, in 1810. After her death, Malmaison was only occasionally occupied. The garden and house were ransacked and vandalized, and the garden’s remains were destroyed in a battle in 1870.
Today, Malmaison has been restored as a national museum, and Piaget, which has its own special association with the rose, is helping to restore the gardens. “The rose has a history that Piaget is committed to preserving,” says company CEO Philippe Léopold-Metzger. “By becoming a patron of the renovation of empress Joséphine’s rose garden in Malmaison, we are contributing to bringing one of the most beautiful testimonials to the love of roses back to life. Empress Joséphine collected roses with a true scientific approach, and the project that we are supporting consists of renovating her rose garden, thus allowing the public to see the large variety of ancient rose plants that she collected.”
Piaget’s connection to roses began when Yves Piaget became a member of the Geneva International New Rose Competition’s jury in 1979, bestowing the winner with a gold rose crafted in the Piaget workshops. His dedication to the rose was cemented in 1982 when the winning flower in the competition, created by the famed rose-breeder Meilland, was christened the Yves Piaget Rose. Endowed with a very particular shape that resembles a peony, this unique rose has a swirl of more than 80 petals, and exudes a powerful scent.
“Yves Piaget’s passion not only inspires our designers’ creativity but also influences our commitment as a company,” says Léopold-Metzger. The restoration of Malmaison began in 2012, and is scheduled to finish this year, in time for the 200th anniversary of Empress Joséphine’s death. More than 200 different varieties of ancient roses from both the First and Second French empires will adorn the garden – about 80 of which were once collected by the empress herself. “The rose garden will consist of more than 800 roses, but will only use ancient roses, as the modern rose appeared at the end of the 19th century,” says Léopold-Metzger. “While the Yves Piaget Rose is a modern one, it will still have a strong presence at Malmaison in another part of the castle’s garden.”
At the inaugural opening, a rose will be named Souvenir de Joséphine in her honor. (This isn’t the first time a rose has been named after the empress. The Souvenir de la Malmaison was named in her honor in 1844, 30 years after her death, by a Russian grand duke planting one of the first specimens in the imperial garden in St. Petersburg.)
Piaget’s interest in the preservation of the rose also extends beyond France. The company supports the New York Botanical Garden, particularly the Peggy Rockefeller Rose garden, which Léopold-Metzger refers to as “one of the world’s most exceptional botanical settings.” Piaget North America has sponsored the New York Botanical Garden’s annual Rose Garden Dinner Dance for the past two years in order to raise funds for the continued care and development of the garden.
“Last year, we planted two of our rose bushes in the garden in honor of Piaget Rose Day, highlighting our connection with the Yves Piaget Rose,” says Léopold-Metzger, who believes, “luxury is built on passion and culture. Passion means giving back and sharing. Through our philanthropic projects, we contribute to preserving both nature and man’s masterpieces.”