Marie Antoinette's Pearls Break Auction Records in Geneva

By Sotheby's

T he sale of jewellery from the Bourbon Parma family was 100% sold last night in Geneva, and led by pieces owned by Queen Marie Antoinette of unrivalled historic provenance. The ten pieces from her collection reached a total of CHF 43.1 million ($42.7 million) against a pre-sale estimate of CHF 1.6–2.9 million ($1.6–2.9 million).

The star of the evening was Marie Antoinette’s 18th century pearl and diamond pendant, that sold for CHF 36,427,000 – achieving a new record for a natural pearl, and setting the saleroom alight with fierce bidding from enthusiastic collectors, eager to secure their own piece of history.

The pendant is believed to have been amongst the jewels that were packed up under cover of night in 1791 as the King and Queen prepared to escape from the besieged Palace of the Tuileries, and the armed revolutionaries surrounding them. From Paris, the carefully concealed jewels were sent first to Brussels, and then Vienna, into the safekeeping of the Austrian Emperor, Marie Antoinette’s nephew.

Much later, the jewels were given to the King and Queen’s only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse de France, who bequeathed the present part of the collection to her niece, the Duchess of Parma. Marie Antoinette's passion for opulent jewellery was well-documented, and she can be seen wearing diamonds, pearls and other precious stones in every portrait painted before the imprisonment of the royal family.

Another highlight of the evening was a three-strand pearl necklace, with a diamond clasp that was added later, which sold for CHF 2,295,000 ($2,278,499). The modification of the piece demonstrates the evolving life of the pearls – adapted in the 20th Century to fit the style and fashions of the later generations of the Bourbon Parma women.

Having passed through several lines of European Royalty, these jewels tell the story of the households that played a central role in the most significant events in world history. Marie Antoinette's descendants were entrusted with her most treasured pieces, and went on to wear and pass down to subsequent generations of this illustrious family.

Click here to view full results from the sale, which achieved a total of CHF 53,522,875.

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