The Marie Antoinette Diamonds boast a provenance as impressive as their timeless style. Christie’s Geneva expects the diamond bracelets to fetch between $2 million and $4 million at its upcoming Magnificent Jewels sale.
Geneva—This fall, one collector will have the chance to own pieces that once belonged to a very important jewelry lover.
“The Marie Antoinette Diamonds” are the first lot in the Magnificent Jewels sale happening at Christie’s Geneva on Nov. 9 at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.
Comprising 112 diamonds still in their original designs in a pair of bracelets, the lot is expected to earn between $2 million and $4 million.
The bracelets’ provenance is a lesson in French history.
Born an Austrian archduchess to Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I, Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) became France’s final queen before the country’s revolution when she married Louis XVI.
The young couple had been married for six years and ruled as king and queen for two when Marie Antoinette acquired the diamond bracelets in 1776.
Already famed for her style by then, Marie Antoinette was an ardent jewelry lover and purchased the bracelets for 250,000 livres, a staggering sum at the time.
Related stories will be right here …
Per the Austrian ambassador to France, Count Mercy-Argenteau, Marie Antoinette paid for the diamonds partially with gemstones from her collection, as well as with funds she received from King Louis.
Christie’s said jewelry historian Vincent Meylan recently confirmed the latter fact with this entry in King Louis’s personal papers dated Feb. 1777: “‘to the Queen: down payment of 29,000 livres for the diamond bracelets she bought from Boehmer” (likely referring to French jewelers Charles-August Boehmer and Paul Bassenge, who frequently worked with French royalty).
Count Mercy-Argenteau relocated to Brussels in 1790 upon leaving his ambassador role.
He received a letter from Marie Antoinette on Jan. 11, 1791, when she was already a prisoner in the Tuileries in Paris, stating she was sending him a wooden chest for safekeeping.
Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine on Oct. 16, 1793. In February 1794, the Emperor Francis II of Austria ordered that the chest be opened and inventoried.
One item on the inventory read: “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.”
The bracelets were given to Marie Antoinette’s surviving daughter, Madame Royale (1778-1851), when she arrived in Austria in January 1796.
Madame Royale wears the bracelets in the below portrait by Antoine-Jean Gros, painted in 1816.
She had no children and left her entire jewelry collection to her three nieces and nephew upon her death in 1851: Count of Chambord (1820-1883), Countess of Chambord (1817-1886), and Duchess of Parma (1819-1864).
Christie’s asserts that though it’s possible the diamond bracelets have been remounted at some time, the design and number of diamonds, except for the stones on the clasp, are just as they were when Marie Antoinette acquired them.
François Curiel, Chairman Christie’s Luxury, commented, “Over the past 255 years, Christie’s have offered many historic jewels from royal houses around the world.
“It is a privilege to be able to offer these exceptional and unique bracelets for sale at Christie’s, where they will attract bidding from collectors globally. As seen in recent Geneva sales, the market for jewels of noble provenance continues to perform extremely well.”
Prior to the Nov. 9 sale, the Marie Antoinette Diamonds will be on view in New York (Sept. 27-29), Hong Kong (Oct. 7-10), Shanghai and Beijing in the second half of October, and Geneva from Nov. 4.