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Pearl’s provenance smashes auction records as Marie Antoinette’s bling goes up for bids

by Greg Klein | November 15, 2018

Pearl’s provenance smashes records as Marie Antoinette’s jewels auctioned off

Offers for the pearl and diamond pendant soared to over 30 times Sotheby’s opening bid.


Revolutionaries might fume about the fuss made over royalty but it was revolutionary fervour that gave Marie Antoinette her place in history. So the tremendous prices struck by the auctioneer’s hammer resulted from the executioner’s guillotine.

Pearl’s provenance smashes records as Marie Antoinette’s jewels auctioned off

Marie Antoinette’s pearl and diamond pendant
survived the revolution to bring over $36 million.
(Photo: Sotheby’s)

Among the November 14 sales was $36.16 million for a pearl and diamond pendant that once adorned the queen. Having asked for an opening bid of 900,000 Swiss francs, about US$895,000, Sotheby’s caller barely contained his delight as the price escalated within minutes to an auction record for a natural pearl. Sotheby’s had previously hoped for a maximum $2 million.

Other items also surpassed pre-sale estimates as infamy at the Paris chopping block fueled excitement at the Geneva auction block. Ten pieces from the doomed queen brought a total of $42.7 million, compared with a pre-sale high estimate of $2.9 million. They formed part of a 100-piece collection from the Bourbon Parma family that reached $53.1 million, far above the $7-million estimate and a record for any sale of royal jewels, Sotheby’s reported. A 1987 sale of Duchess of Windsor glitter set a previous record of $50.3 million.

Other highlights included a three-strand pearl necklace from the neckless monarch, which sold for $2.28 million and a diamond brooch that brought $2.1 million. A diamond ring containing a lock of the would-be heir’s hair got $443,786, 50 times its estimate.

Participants from 43 countries joined in the event, 55% taking part online.

“Tonight we saw the Marie Antoinette factor work its magic,” gushed Sotheby’s Daniela Mascetti. “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.”

Anticipating her arrest by the mob, Marie Antoinette was said to have spent a sleepless night in which she “carefully wrapped her pearls, diamonds and rubies in cotton, placed them in a wooden chest and sent them to Brussels,” the auctioneer stated. “From there, they were taken to Vienna, into the safekeeping 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.”

Bourbon Parma progenitors include Habsburg emperors and Pope Paul III, as well as French royalty. The family’s reason for hawking their bling wasn’t divulged.

Pearl’s provenance smashes records as Marie Antoinette’s jewels auctioned off

Christie’s brings down the hammer as a fancy
vivid pink diamond sells for a record price per carat.

Sotheby’s next sale of celebrity-enhanced stones comes December 4 with a 20.6-carat diamond engagement ring that Frank Sinatra gave to his future wife Barbara. The event forms part of a number of auctions that month unloading some 200 items of jewelry and memorabilia called Lady Blue Eyes: Property of Barbara and Frank Sinatra.

One day before the Marie Antoinette sale, Sotheby’s competitor Christie’s made history of its own with a $50.4-million auction price that set a pink diamond record of $2.7 million per carat.

“To find a diamond of this size with this colour is pretty much unreal,” enthused Christie’s Rahul Kadakia. “You may see this colour in a pink diamond of less than one carat. But this is almost 19 carats and it’s as pink as can be. It’s unbelievable.”

Record or not, the sale price would have surprised few since the pre-sale estimate ranged from $30 million to $50 million. Once belonging to the Oppenheimer family of De Beers fame, the stone now comes into the possession of jeweller Harry Winston, which renamed it the Winston Pink Legacy.

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