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Historical baubles Marie-Antoinette’s jewels soar at ‘once in a lifetime’ sale in Geneva

Marie-Antoinette up for auction. 

The top lot - the pearl and diamond pendant - was sold to a private collector bidding by phone who asked to remain anonymous


A royal treasure trove including jewels that belonged to French Queen Marie-Antoinette has fetched CHF53.5 million ($53.2 million), as collectors snapped up rare historic gems fresh to the market, Sotheby's said. 

The total exceeded the $50 million at its historic two-day auction of the Duchess of Windsor jewels, held in the Swiss city in 1987.

The top lot on Wednesday was an 18th-century natural pearl and oval diamond pendant with a bow motif, which Marie-Antoinette would suspend from a three-row pearl necklace. The pendant soared to CHF36.4 million – which Sotheby's said was a world record for a pearl – after ten minutes of seesaw bidding.

The necklace with a diamond clasp fetched nearly CHF2.9 million, also drawing applause. A monogram ring, bearing Marie-Antoinette's initials MA and containing a lock of her woven hair, had been estimated at $8,000-$10,000 but soared in bidding to CHF447,000.

"Prices really rocketed. Some items sold for 25 times more than the pre-sale estimate," said Sotheby's Daniela Mascetti.

'Captivating insight'

The jewels were part of a lot belonging to the blue-blooded Bourbon-Parma family descended from aristocracy such as Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperors and Pope Paul III. 

Such a sale is totally out of the ordinary and included pieces not seen in public in 200 years. Before the auction in Geneva, the collection was presented in several cities around the world: London, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore and Taipei. 

“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,” Mascetti said.


Jewel video

Jewels up for auction

The queen's tragic destiny also contributes to the mystique surrounding the jewels. Daughter of the Empress of Austria and wife of King Louis XVI of France, Marie-Antoinette was swept away by the French Revolution. Before trying to flee France with Louis XVI and his children, she sent her jewellery to Brussels and it was passed on to relatives in Austria. The royal couple was guillotined in 1793 and their son Louis XVII died in captivity. The only survivor of the French Revolution, their daughter Marie-Thérèse de France, was exchanged for French prisoners in December 1795. When she arrived in Vienna, the Emperor of Austria handed over her mother's jewellery.


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