One of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to come to auction is set to capture the world’s imagination when it comes to Sotheby’s this autumn. Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family (Geneva, 12 November), which spans centuries of European history, from the reign of Louis XVI to the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, will offer a fascinating insight into the splendour of one of Europe’s most important royal dynasties.
Descended from Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperors and from Pope Paul III, the Bourbon-Parma family is linked by blood to the most important ruling families of Europe - from the Bourbons to the Habsburgs. Members of the lineage include Kings of France and Spain, Emperors of Austria and the Dukes of Parma.
This illustrious ancestry is demonstrated by the extraordinary opulence of the pieces in the collection, led by a breath-taking group of jewels which once belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette, daughter of Holy Roman Empress Maria Teresa, and wife of Louis XVI, the most famous Queen of France, which have not been seen in public for 200 years.
Among the star lots of the collection is a stunning diamond pendant, supporting a natural pearl of exceptional size (26 mm x 18 mm), as well as a pair of natural pearl drops and a fabulous necklace featuring 119 natural pearls.
This impressive ensemble of jewels has an extraordinary story. As King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their family prepared their escape in March 1791, the queen placed all her diamonds, rubies and pearls in a wooden chest, which made its way to Vienna by way of Brussels in the care of Count Mercy Argentau, a loyal retainer to the queen.
The king and queen were executed by guillotine in 1793 and their 10-year-old son Louis XVII died in captivity shortly after. Their last surviving child Marie-Thérèse, known as "Madame Royale", was released from three years of solitary confinement in 1795. Upon her eventual arrival in Vienna in 1796 she reclaimed her mother’s jewels, which had been kept safe by her cousin, the Austrian Emperor.
The illustrious jewels to be offered in November also bear witness to the family’s connections with the House of Habsburg, one of the most influential royal dynasties of Europe. Reigning over the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, the Habsburgs also occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and produced emperors and kings whose dominions included Germany, England, Spain, Holland and Italy.
Daniela Mascetti, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Jewellery Europe and Senior International Specialist: "It is one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history. Never before seen in public, this extraordinary group of jewels offers a captivating insight into the lives of its owners going back hundreds of years. What is also striking is the inherent beauty of the pieces themselves: the precious gems they are adorned with and the exceptional craftsmanship they display are stunning in their own right."