Jewels witnesses of great history: their intrinsic value adds an incalculable charm. As in the case of the diamonds that belonged to Marie Antoinette, queen of France who ended up on the guillotine during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. On 9 November Christie’s will put up for sale at auction in Geneva, as the first lot, 112 diamonds originally belonging to the queen (1755-1793). The stones are set in a historic pair of bracelets. The estimate is between $ 2 and $ 4 million.
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.
François Curiel, president of Christie’s Luxury
It is worthwhile to retrace the history of the jewel: in 1776 Marie Antoinette was queen of France for two years and already recognized for elegance and style. She couldn’t resist jewelry, especially diamonds. Her unhappy phrase (“if the peasants don’t have bread, they should eat brioche” seems not to have been uttered by her, but it conveys the idea of the time).
In any case, in the spring of 1776 the queen bought these two diamond bracelets for 250,000 lire, which was a huge sum for the time. According to Count Mercy-Argenteau, ambassador of Austria to France, they were paid partly in precious stones from the queen’s collection and partly with the funds the queen received from her husband, King Louis XVI. Recent discoveries by the jewelery historian Vincent Meylan show that in February 1777, in the personal papers of King Louis XVI, we read: “to the queen: down payment of 29,000 lire for the diamond bracelets she bought from Boehmer”.
On the run with the jewels
Count Mercy-Argenteau left his post as ambassador of the Austrian Empire to France in 1790 and settled in Brussels. On 11 January 1791 he received a letter from Queen Marie Antoinette, then a prisoner at the Tuileries in Paris. She announced that she would be sending a wooden crate for safekeeping. Mercy-Argenteau kept it closed for a couple of years. On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined and in February 1794 the emperor Franz II of Austria (1768-1835) ordered the opening of the box in Brussels. The inventory included “Article no. 6 – A pair of bracelets where three diamonds, with the largest set in the center, form two clips; the two clips act as clasps, each made up of four diamonds and 96 diamonds set in a collar ».
Madame Royale (1778-1851), surviving daughter of Marie Antoinette, received these jewels in January 1796 upon her arrival in Austria. Among the pieces with a traceable provenance from the Queen of France, these extraordinary bracelets are the only example to include diamonds owned by her and to maintain the exact design described in the Brussels inventory. Although it is possible that the bracelets were reassembled at a later stage, no changes were made to the overall composition and the number of diamonds, with the exception of those on the clasp, was kept identical as per inventory. Over time, the jewels have become “the property of a European royal family”, which is now selling them.