Marie Antoinette’s Pearl Pendant Sells for Record US$36m

A pearl and diamond pendant that formerly owned by the French Queen Marie Antoinette sold for a record CHF 36.4m (US$36.1m) at Sotheby’s in Geneva. The sale presented jewels that once belonged to royal members like Queen Marie Antoinette, King Charles X of France, and the last ruling Duke of Parma, including some exquisite pieces that have not been seen in public for 200 years.

The Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family sale sold all 100 treasures offered, realising a total of CHF 53.5m (US$53.1m), more than seven times the pre-sale high estimate of CHF 7m. The highlights of the sale were without question the jewels from Marie Antoinette collection. The French Queen was known for her great love of pearls and diamonds. She was often portrayed wearing pearls, a symbol of wealth and status.

Marie Antoinette was known for her great love of pearls and diamonds

In March 1791, due to the Revolution, the French royal family was put under house arrest and Marie Antoinette had to prepare for her escape from France. According to the queen’s lady in waiting, Marie Antoinette spent an entire evening wrapping all her jewels herself. These precious treasures were sent to Brussels where Archduchess Marie-Christine, Marie Antoinette’s sister, was in power.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed by guillotine in 1793 and their son died in captivity. Their only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse de France, arrived in Vienna in 1796. She bequeathed part of her jewellery collection to her niece and adopted daughter, Louise of France, Duchess of Parma, who in turn left them to her son, Robert I (1848-1907), the last ruling Duke of Parma.

Pearls and diamonds from the French Queen collection reigned supreme at the Geneva auction, led by a natural pearl and diamond pendant that valued at CHF 1m-1.99m before the sale. It was hammered down at CHF 32m and sold for CHF 36.4m (US$36.1m), establishing a new auction record for a natural pearl.

A natural pearl and diamond necklace sold for CHF 2.295m

Diamond brooch sold for CHF 2.115m

The second highest price was realised by a three-strand necklace featuring 311 natural pearls, estimated at CHF 200,000-300,000. It reached a final price of CHF 2.295m (US$2.27m) after a fierce bidding.

Top three lots (all formerly belonged to Marie Antoinette)

Pearl and Diamond Pendant, 18th century, from Queen Marie Antoinette of France

Lot no.: 100
Size: 15.90 x 18.35 x 25.85mm
Estimate: CHF 995,000 - 1,900,000 (US$1m-2m)
Price realised: CHF 36,427,000

Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace

Lot no.: 97
Size: 7.3 - 9.3mm
Estimate: CHF 200,000-300,000
Price realised: CHF 2,295,000

Diamond Brooch, Second Half of the 18th Century

Lot no.: 95
Estimate: CHF 50,000-80,000
Price realised: CHF 2,115,000

Auction summary:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Geneva
Sale: Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family
Auction date: 14 November 2018
Lots offered: 100
Sold: 100
Sold by lot: 100%
Sale total: CHF 53,522,875