L ast night in Geneva, one of the most important historic collections of royal jewels made auction history. One hundred treasures from the collection of the Bourbon Parma family together realised CHF 53.5 million ($53.1 million), more than seven times the pre-sale high estimate of CHF 7 million ($7 million) and a record for any sale of royal jewels, eclipsing the long-held benchmark of $50.3 million established by the sale of jewels of the Duchess of Windsor established in 1987. Every jewel offered tonight found a buyer, with many selling for high multiples of pre-sale expectations.
Explore the exhibition of Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family.
Following exhibitions of the jewels around the world, international collectors and history-lovers demonstrated the full force of their fascination with the historic treasures, unrivalled in rarity and calibre. Participants from 43 countries took part in the sale, with 55% of registrants participating online. A testament to the universal appeal of the jewels, a quarter of participants were new to Sotheby’s.
Tonight we saw the Marie Antoinette factor work its magic. No other queen is more famous for her love of jewels, and her personal treasures, pearls and diamonds that survived intact the tumults of history, captivated the interest of collectors around the world
The Enduring Fascination of Marie Antoinette and Her Jewels
The star lot of the auction, a natural pearl and diamond pendant from Marie Antoinette’s personal collection, soared to CHF 36,427,000 ($36,165,090), leaving its estimate of CHF 1–2 million ($1–2 million) far behind, and establishing a new auction record for a natural pearl.
Watch the Bidding battle for Marie Antoinette's pearl and diamond pendant.
The pendant was among ten exquisite pieces which once belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette, all of which attracted fierce bidding. Together they realised 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).
These jewels had an extraordinary story. Before being taken into captivity, Marie Antoinette carefully wrapped her pearls, diamonds and rubies in cotton, placed them in a wooden chest and sent them to Brussels. From there, they were taken to Vienna, into the safe keeping of the Austrian Emperor, her nephew. Restored to Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Madame Royale, following her release in 1795, the jewels were then passed on to the Bourbon Parma family with whom they remained for the next 200 years.
Descended from Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperors and 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, and the pieces offered presented an illuminating insight in to the the fascinating and storied history of the dynasty.
A beautiful three-strand necklace strung with pearls from the queen’s personal collection, which also saw intense bidding, reaching a final price of CHF 2,295,000 ($2,278,499).
One of the most personal and intimate lots in the sale, a monogrammed diamond ring bearing the initials MA for Marie Antoinette and containing a lock of her hair, eclipsed pre-sale expectations to sell for 50 times the estimate at CHF 447,000 ($443,786). A diamond brooch supporting a sumptuous yellow diamond also captured the hearts of jewellery lovers, achieving CHF 2,115,000 ($2,099,793) after an extended bidding battle.
Watch as bidders drive the price of the yellow diamond brooch to CHF 2,115,000.
Other Highlights in the Bourbon Parma Collection
The extraordinary collection also included splendid jewels belonging to later generations of the Bourbon Parma family, with links to the royal families of France, Italy, Spain and Austria.
A highly impressive diamond tiara, made by Austrian jeweller Hübner for Maria Anna of Austria in 1912, was among the crowning glories of the auction and sold to applause in the room for a final price of CHF 975,000 ($967,990).
A superb diamond parure adorned with old-cut diamonds with a detachable pendant made for Louise of France and including five diamonds which belonged to Marie Antoinette’s daughter saw prolonged bidding and sold for CHF 855,000 ($848,853).
A sensational pair of diamond girandole earrings that once belonged to the Duchess of Parma sold for almost three times the pre-sale estimate at CHF 735,000 ($729,715).
A diamond ring set with a 2.44-carat Fancy Orangy Pink diamond soared above estimate to reach CHF 579,000 ($574,837).
Two extraordinary jeweled badges of the Order of the Holy Spirit and the Order of the Golden Fleece, both owned by the Duke of Angoulême, sold respectively for CHF 1,635,000 ($1,623,244) and for CHF 1,695,000 ($1,682,813).