"Let them eat cake" -- whether or not France's last queen Marie Antoinette said these words is debatable but there is no doubt that a pair of diamond bracelets that are going under the hammer later this year belonged to the ill-fated queen. 'Queen Marie-Antoinette's Diamonds' will be the highlight and opening lot at the 'Magnificent Jewels' auction organised by Christie's on November 9th in Geneva.
Totalling 112 stones, ranging from one to 4.5 carats each, set in gold and silver, the bracelets are estimated to weigh between 140 and 170 carats and are expected to fetch between $2 million to $4 million.
However, if past sales are anything to go by, they could fetch a lot more. "As seen in recent Geneva sales, the market for jewels of noble provenance continues to perform extremely well," said Francois Curiel, Chairman of Christie's luxury division, in a statement.
In 2018, a natural pearl and diamond pendant that belonged to the French queen was estimated by the Sotheby's auction house at $1-2 million but was finally sold for $36 million.
Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) loved jewellery especially diamonds -- 'The affair of the diamond necklace', though she wasn't responsible for it, was almost the final straw that led to her reputation being destroyed and discredited the monarchy in the eyes of the French people.
It is the legacy of the two diamond bracelets going up for auction that make them so special. In the spring of 1776, the queen bought these two diamond bracelets for 250,000 livres - worth a queen's ransom even then. They were paid partly in gemstones from the queen's collection and partly with funds the queen received from King Louis XVI.
Jewellery historian, Vincent Meylan, recently discovered that in February 1777, in the personal papers of King Louis XVI, it is stated: 'to the Queen: down payment of 29,000 livres for the diamond bracelets she bought from Boehmer'.
The queen loved her diamonds so much that even when she was imprisoned in Tuileries in Paris in 1790, she sent a chest full of her jewellery to Brussels for safe keeping. On 16 October 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined and in February 1794, Emperor Francis II of Austria (1768-1835) ordered the chest to be opened in Brussels and an inventory to be made.
It read as 'Item no. 6 - A pair of bracelets where three diamonds, with the biggest set in the middle, form two barrettes; the two barrettes serve as clasps, each comprising four diamonds and 96 collet-set diamonds'. They were then passed on to Madame Royale (1778-1851), Marie-Antoinette's surviving daughter - Marie-Theresa Charlotte of France. She wore them in an 1816 portrait. After she died childless in 1851, all her jewellery, including the bracelets, were passed on to her nieces and nephews -- Count of Chambord, Countess of Chambord, and the Duchess of Parma.
What makes these pieces of jewellery remarkable is that they have a provenance that can be traced back directly to the ill-fated queen of France. They are the only example of diamonds belonging to her that retain the exact design described in the Brussels inventory.
While Christie's has not announced the other pieces that will go under the hammer in the Geneva sale, there are expected to be around 200 pieces.
The live auction is expected to get high demand from buyers in Asia as well as Europe, US and the Middle East. Asia is a big market for Christies. In the first half of 2021, clients in Asia contributed 39 per cent of the total value of sales, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) contributed 33 per cent and the Americas 28 per cent.
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