A breath-taking group of jewels which once belonged to French King Louis XVI's Queen Marie-Antoinette and has not been seen in public for two centuries is to go on sale at Sotheby's Geneva this autumn.
The auction, entitled “Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family”, will span centuries of European history, from the reign of Louis XVI to the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is set to take place on November 12 in the Swiss city.
"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” said Daniela Mascetti, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Jewellery Europe and Senior International Specialist.
The sale will include over 100 lots all owned by the Bourbon-Parma family which is linked by blood to the most important ruling families of Europe.
Among the star lots of the collection is Marie Antoinette's diamond pendant, supporting a natural pearl of exceptional size (26 mm x 18 mm) which is expected to fetch up to $2 million (1.7 million euros). A necklace featuring 331 natural pearls has an estimated value of up to $300,000 (255,000 euros), a pair of pearl drop earrings has been valued at up to 50,000 dollars while a parure composed of 95 diamonds, including five solitaire diamonds has been valued at up to $500,000.
The jewels to be offered in November also bear witness to the family’s connections with the House of Habsburg, one of the most influential royal dynasties of Europe.
A highlight of this group is a diamond tiara with a foliate scroll design, offered by Emperor Franz-Josef, one of Europe’s longest reigning monarchs, to his great niece the Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria on her marriage in 1902 to Elias of Bourbon, Duke of Parma. This diadem was created by Viennese jewellery house Köchert and has an estimated value of up to $120,000.
Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793) was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. During the Revolution, she became known as Madame Déficit because the country's financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending.
She was very often portrayed wearing pearls and diamonds. A number of historians have cited Napoleon’s view, that the so-called “affair of the diamond necklace” – a scandal which tarnished the queen’s reputation in 1785 – was one of the causes of the French Revolution.
When French King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their children tried to escape from France in March 1791, the royal jewels were smuggled out of the country into the trust of Count Mercy Argentau in Brussels.
The count, the former Austrian Ambassador to Paris, sent them on to Marie Antoinette’s nephew the Emperor of Austria who later gave them to her only surviving child Marie Therese of France, Sotheby's said.
Marie Antoinette was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of high treason on 14 October 1793 and was guillotined on the Place de la Révolution two days later. The following month her husband Louis XVI met a similar fate.
Highlights of the collection will go on view in Milan on 27 June, Munich on September 18 and Cologne on September 21. The jewels will also go on view in London, New York, Hong Kong and Geneva this autumn.
Sotheby’s was founded in London in 1744 by Samuel Baker, an entrepreneur, occasional publisher and successful bookseller. It is the oldest and largest internationally recognised firm of fine art auctioneers in the world.
Sotheby’s became the first international auction house when it expanded from London to New York (1955), the first to conduct sales in Hong Kong (1973), India (1992) and France (2001), and the first international fine art auction house in China (2012).
Today, Sotheby’s is headquartered in New York and presents auctions in 10 different salesrooms, including New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris, and Sotheby’s BidNow program allows visitors to view all auctions live online and place bids from anywhere in the world.
Sotheby's became a U.K. public company in 1977. In 1988, the company's shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange, making Sotheby's the oldest publicly traded company on the NYSE under the ticker symbol "BID". The company’s annual worldwide sales turnover is currently in excess of $4 billion.
Jewels owned by French queen Marie Antoinette were sold by Sotheby's auction house for $53.1 million.