A pearl and diamond pendant owned by Marie Antoinette before she was beheaded during the French Revolution sold for USD 36 million at an auction, shattering its pre-sale estimate of up to USD 2 million.
The Sotheby’s auction at an ultra-luxurious hotel on the banks of Lake Geneva saw feverish bidding for a 10-piece collection owned by the ill-fated queen, featuring jewels unseen in public for two centuries.
The 10 items, which had been estimated to fetch a total of roughly USD 3 million, sold for a combined sum of nearly USD 43 million, Sotheby’s said. A diamond brooch pegged to go for roughly USD 80,000 sold for USD 1.75 million, excluding fees, one of several pieces that brought in more than 20 times its estimated worth.
“Marie Antoinette’s pendant is simply irreplaceable and the price it fetched is about far more than the gem itself,” Eddie LeVian, the chief executive of jewellers Le Vian, said in a statement. “It captures everyone’s imagination,” he added.
Marie Antoinette, who historians say was reviled by much of the French public over her lavish spending in the midst of a national financial crisis, was guillotined in Paris in October 1793 at the age of 37. After her death, her jewels followed a winding path highlighting European power dynamics in the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to accounts written by the queen’s lady-in-waiting, Madame Campan, Marie Antoinette spent an entire evening in the Tuileries Palace wrapping all her diamonds, rubies and pearls in cotton and enclosing them in a wooden chest.
In 1792, the royal family was imprisoned in Paris. The king and queen were executed the next year, and their 10-year-old son died in captivity. Only their daughter, Marie Therese of France, survived. She was sent to Austria in 1796, where she was given her mother’s jewels.
She had no children herself, but passed on the treasures 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. They have been privately owned by relatives ever since.