November 14 was not a regular auction at Sotheby's Geneva when over hundred jewels from royal family Bourbon Parma, a family that extends over the centuries of royal families around Europe, were up on the block.

Rosette brooch in silver with an old-cut diamond (yellow). Gift to Marie Anne at the marriage of Elie of Parma. The diamonds belong to Queen Marie Antoinette. Sold for 275,000 CHF (including commission). Photo: Sotheby's. Rosette brooch in silver with an old-cut diamond (yellow). Gift to Marie Anne of Parma at the marriage of Elie of Parma. The diamonds belong to Queen Marie Antoinette. Photo: Sotheby's.

The most extraordinary jewels on offer belonged to Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), France's last true queen.

Earrings with natural pearls and diamonds belonged to Marie Antoinette's collection. Photo: Sotheby's. Earrings with natural pearls and diamonds belonged to Marie Antoinette's collection. Photo: Sotheby's.

Throughout history, jewelry has expressed status and these particular jewels play a very important role in history. On most of Marie Antoinette's portraits, she appears to wear her beloved pearl beads, a symbol of wealth and power for thousands of years thanks to their beauty and rarity.

This pearl collar is seen on several of the portraits painted by Marie Antionette. Photo: Sotheby's. This pearl collar is seen on several of the portraits painted by Marie Antionette. Photo: Sotheby's.

Marie Antoinette, originally Maria Antonia of Austria, was the youngest daughter of Emperor Maria Thérèse of Austria, and at 15 years old, she married the future king Louis XVI (1754-1793) and received a considerable number of jewels, including many from his mother.

She gave birth to four children, of whom the two youngest were believed to be illegitimate children from dalliances with Swedish count Axel von Fersen.

The diamonds in the tiaran were first placed in the Order of Saint Esprit crash, which belonged to King Charles X of France, but was taken in this tiara by the Hübner Jeweler in 1912. Photo: Sotheby's. The diamonds in the tiaran were first placed in the Order of Saint Esprit crash, which belonged to King Charles X of France, but was taken in this tiara by the Hübner Jeweler in 1912. Photo: Sotheby's.

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, the royal family began to plan their escape. In 1791, Marie-Antoinette sent her well-wrapped jewels to her sister, Archduke Marie Christine in Brussels, who made sure the jewels were transported to Vienna by the Comte de Mercy Argenteau so they were safely secured.

Only one member of the French royal family survived the Revolution, the royal couple's daughter Marie Thérèse of France (1778-1851). She was imprisoned with her mother, father and brother, until she received freedom in 1795 in exchange for French prisoners. Her mother and father were beheaded in 1793 and her brother died of illness in 1795.

Marie-Therese Princess Marie Thérèse of France, daughter of Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI

When she was released, she went to Vienna where her cousin Emperor Franz II of Austria (1768-1835) returned her mother's jewelry to her, in addition to a large amount of money and gold coins that her father, King Louis XVI, had stowed away. She soon moved to modern-day Latvia and in 1799, she married her cousin, Louis Anton, Duke of Angoulême.

In 1814, Madame Royale, as Marie Thérèse was called, returned to France to see her uncle Louis XVIII (1755-1824) become the new king. Since he was a widow, she became the country's first lady and always proudly wore her mother's jewelry at official events.

Ring with Marie Antoinette's portrait, gouache on ivory, wreath with old-cut diamonds, owned by Queen Marie Antoinette and later belonging to the Marie Thérèse who gave it to her adopter daughter Louise of France. Photo: Sotheby's. Ring with Marie Antoinette's portrait, gouache on ivory, wreath with old-cut diamonds, owned by Queen Marie Antoinette and later belonging to the Marie Thérèse who gave it to her adopter daughter Louise of France. Photo: Sotheby's.

Since she did not have her own children, Madame Royale entrusted the jewels to her adoptive daughter Louise of France, the Duchess of Parma and grandchild of Charles X, the King of France. Charles X in 1851. Louise left the inheritance to her son, Robert I, the last ruling duke of Parma.

Nearly 80 years later, Marie Antoinette's relative and the daughter-in-law of Robert I of Parma, Princess Marie Anne of Bourbon Parma, wrote the legacy of the jewels. Thanks to Marie Anne, the story of these jewels was carefully documented.

Monogram ring with the letters MA, belonging to Marie Antoinette. Sold for 447,000 CHF (incl. Commission). Photo: Sotheby's. Monogram ring with the letters MA, belonging to Marie Antoinette. Photo: Sotheby's.

On Wednesday, November 14, 2018, the auction broke records when all the Bourbon-Parma jewels sold for $53.2, of which the ten belonging to Marie-Antoinette realized $43 million.

Pearl belonging to Marie Antoinette A diamond and natural pearl pendant belonging to Marie Antoinette

The most expensive sale was this natural drip-shaped white pearl and diamond pendant, belonging to Marie-Antoinette, which sold for a staggering $36 million (a record for a pearl) after being estimated at $1-2 million, showing the extraordinary draw of an exceptional provenance and historic significance.

 

 

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