Jewelry is beautiful, jewelry is a precious memory, and jewelry represents an emotion. This also applies to jewelry that has been owned by historical and/or royal figures, such as Marie Antoinette, but on top of that, they often carry an exciting history. And now the important auction houses have some of that historic royal jewelry for sale too! Unfortunately not from the average stock market, but still… exciting.
It gets even more exciting when you know that a stolen diamond necklace was one of the reasons for the start of the French Revolution. I’ll tell you all about that a little later, but first back to Marie Antoinette.
Royal jewelry for sale, from Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess, was betrothed to the French King Louis XVI at the age of 14. The sole purpose of this union was to provide offspring, but the two were not exactly buddies (to put it mildly). Somehow 4 children arrived and Marie Antoinette had fulfilled her task.
She had no further task or responsibility at the French Court, except to organize celebrations and parties. And she was a master at that. And another talent or hobby that she spent a lot of time on was buying clothes and jewelry, lots of clothes and lots and lots of jewelry. Expensive jewelry.
And then no simple things, but extravagant and expensive jewelry, with lots of diamonds. Although the young queen was popular with the people at first, this became less and less, especially when the French economy fell into a depression and the French people went hungry.
Marie Antoinette’s lavish spending on expensive things and jewelry made her unpopular with the people and she was also called ‘Madame Déficit’; ‘Madame national debt’. And her statement that “if there was not enough bread for the people, people could still eat cake”, did not really go down well.
Her popularity dropped dramatically because of the affair with the stolen diamond necklace, which was probably not her fault, but was a reason to get rid of this French royal family and start a revolution.
the story of the diamond necklace
First, the diamond necklace theft, which played out in the 1880s. For years, the Parisian jewelers Böhmer and Bassenge had saved up their finest diamonds to make a necklace for Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s mistress. When the king died, the deal went through.
The diamond necklace was then presented by the jewelers to King XVI as a gift for his wife Marie Antoinette, but she did not want a hand-me-down from a mistress. Other sales attempts failed.
At that time, Cardinal de Rohan tried to gain the favor of the queen to become prime minister, but Queen Marie Antoinette would not cooperate. This was noticed by the Countess de la Motte-Valois and she tried to take advantage of this by informing the Cardinal de Rohan that she knew the Queen well and was willing to put in a good word for him in exchange for money.
The countess supposedly arranged a meeting between the queen (a look-alike) and the cardinal, and the look-alike reported that she was willing to forget all disputes.
With the money that the Countess received from the Cardinal, she was able to move into the well-to-do circles of Paris. The jewelers Böhmer and Bassenge asked the countess if Marie Antoinette was not interested in the diamond necklace. This was confirmed by the countess on the condition that the queen could pay in 4 installments, while the necklace had already been delivered for the first installment.
The delivery went ahead, the Countess’s husband put the royal jewelry for sale in London and payment (obviously) was not forthcoming. This aroused suspicion, especially when Marie Antoinette stated in a claim that she had not ordered, had not bought, and had not received the diamonds.
Normally such an affair was conducted behind the doors of the palace, but Marie Antoinette was so angry that she demanded a public trial. The entire French people could thus see what amounts the palace put down for jewelry and they became furious. A great reason for the revolution, for the abolition of the monarchy in 1789.
Bringing her jewelry into safety
Marie Antoinette had seen the trouble coming and carefully wrapped her precious jewelry in cotton and sent it to her cousin, the Emperor of Austria, where they passed through inheritance to the de Bourbon-Parma family.
The fairy tale of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI was over and they were beheaded in 1793. The French monarchy was coming to an end and the crown jewels had already been sold to the highest bidder in 1887. People will have thought ‘No crown, so no king’, tidy is neat.
The then government sold all diamonds and other precious stones with the jewelry. About 30% of all jewelry was bought by Tiffany and Co and they were exhibited in New York. This exhibition has contributed significantly to the fame of Tiffany and Co. Although no royal jewelry for sale at Tiffany’s, only watching!
It is unclear where the rest of the crown jewels have gone. Probably a part was taken apart and sold per gemstone. In 2022, a necklace with rubies, diamonds, and pearls arrived at antique dealer M.S. Rau in New Orleans/USA offering this royal jewelry for sale. The necklace was said to have been made circa 1830 and the price tag was $375,000.
The sellers were a couple from Geneva, and it’s not clear how they got the necklace.
It is clear that if the French crown jewels and the private jewelry of the French royal family had stayed together, this collection would have been worth more than that of the British or Dutch royal family. The French noblemen had expensive taste, not only Marie Antoinette but also the later Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III.
The story of the two diamond bracelets: royal jewelry for sale
But not only this diamond with rubies and pearls necklace has surfaced. This also applies to a set of diamond bracelets, which were once bought by Marie Antoinette. These diamond bracelets also have a great history, which drives up the price considerably when sold. You can imagine when royal jewelry is for sale the price goes up and up.
In 1776 Marie Antoinette’s eyes fell on two very rare and beautiful diamond bracelets, which were even beyond her budget. But hubby was not afraid to lend her money and together with some gems from her own collection, the bracelets were purchased. Cost: 250,000 livres (the French currency at the time).
A livre was worth 1 pound of silver in 1776! Here too, Böhmer and Bassenge was the supplier.
During the French Revolution (1789) Marie Antoinette was arrested and put in the Bastille (notorious prison in Paris). Just before her beheading in 1793, she sent a box of royal jewelry, including the diamond bracelets, to a confidant in Brussels, asking them to keep it for her.
In 1794, the Emperor of Austria, the nephew of Marie Antoinette, ordered the box to be opened, inventoried, and handed over to the rightful heiress, Marie-Therese Charlotte of France. The inventory stated: “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”.
Marie-Therese died childless in 1851 and her 3 cousins became the heirs of (part of) Marie Antoinette’s jewelry collection, including the diamond bracelets. These bracelets with 112 diamonds were sold by Christie’s in 2021 for 7.5 million euros.
New jewelry style after the French Revolution
The French Revolution had a very negative impact on the gemstone and jewelry business. The patrons were beheaded or put away in the Bastille. And the diamond, as a symbol of the ‘decadent aristocracy’, was banned.
In fact, Napoleon was appointed First Consul of the French Republic in 1799. There was splendor again, jewelry had to be made again, the diamond was restored and the cameo became popular.
The jewelry looked a bit different. Large, in gold and silver, but with simple motifs without frills. And elegant, with up to 2 colors. Usually, a large gemstone was used, flanked by small diamonds as an accent. The jewelry was called ‘Napoleonic’ jewelry, partly initiated by Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, who loved expensive jewelry.
Napoleon was not satisfied with his status as First Consul and had himself crowned Emperor, crowned with a pure gold “laurel tiara” (tiara in the shape of an olive wreath).
Napoleon had to divorce Josephine because they had no children, so successors. She had to leave the state jewelry behind, but she had plenty of private royal jewelry. And Empress Eugénie inherited her penchant for luxurious jewelry.
Royal jewelry for sale; jewelry of Marie Antoinette
Let’s go back to Marie Antoinette’s jewelry that went on sale in 2018 through the auction house Sotheby’s. This royal jewelry is unique, of great quality, richly set with precious stones, with an impressive history, so… not cheap.
And you have to believe the blue eyes of the experts at Sotheby’s that this royal jewelry comes from Marie Antoinette. The evidence that the jewelry was really worn by Marie Antoinette during the Revolution has been largely destroyed.
Anyway, they are real showpieces, like the gold pendant, set with diamonds and with a huge natural pearl. Sotheby’s estimated that this piece would go for $1 million, but the last bidder put in $28.3 million! This makes it the most expensive pearl ever (so far).
The Grand Mazarin diamond: royal jewelry for sale
In 2017, Christie’s auctioned the ‘Grand Mazarin’, a 20-carat diamond worn by Louis XIV (the Sun King), but also by his wife Marie-Therese, as part of a larger piece of jewelry. It was estimated that it will cost 6 to 9 million dollars.
The Grand Mazarin diamond was found in a mine in India and was incorporated in 1661 by Louis XIV into a crown worn by Marie-Therese, his wife. After her death, the stone was placed in a pendant for the king. The Grand Mazarin remained part of the royal jewelry collection of the French kings for about 250 years.
The blue Farnese diamond, also royal jewelry for sale
Not only the jewelry of the French royal family comes to the surface every now and then and is offered for sale. In addition to Christie’s, Sotheby’s also received a royal jewel under the auction hammer, namely the Blue Farnese diamond. This is a royal gemstone, which has been in royal collections for 300 years and has been lost to the outside world for the past 100 years.
The first historical dates on this diamond date back to 1714 or 1715 when the King of Spain, Philip V, married an Italian princess, Elisabeth Farnese after his first wife died. But a dowry still had to be arranged and Spain was almost bankrupt due to a war.
So a fleet was equipped for a trip to the Spanish colonies to retrieve some valuables. The fleet was wrecked in a violent hurricane, in which many emeralds disappeared to the bottom of the sea, but somehow a ship from the Philippines with a diamond still made it to Spain: the Farnese diamond, a blue pear-shaped diamond that was presented to the new queen as a dowry.
Elisabeth had 7 children by Philip V and her favorite was her youngest son Infante Philippe, who could never ascend the Spanish throne. Elisabeth arranged for him an old earldom, still owned by her own family, and gave him the Farnese diamond around 1745.
the blue Farnese diamond, in different royal collections for 300 years
It would go too far to name all the owners, but the diamond remained in the Bourbon-Parma family and came into the hands of Napoleon through the conquest of the Duchy of Parma. During this time there was a lot of war, and it became unclear who owned what.
The Italian duchies were united into an empire in 1859 and the noble families found asylum with Emperor Francis of Austria. One of the children of the last Duke of Parma married an Austrian princess and on her marriage, she received a diamond belt, with a matching tiara made. And at some point, the blue Farnese diamond was placed in there.
The Princess Maria Anna of Austria Bourbon-Parma, who owned the tiara, inherited the diamonds for that tiara from Marie Antoinette. But the blue Farnese diamond and also the tiara disappeared with the fall of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, of which Austria was a part.
It is not until about 100 years later that the blue Farnese diamond resurfaces and is offered for sale.
Royal jewelry for sale, the new owners
Have you also marveled at this royal jewelry, which is offered for sale for a huge amount? Most end up in the collections of private individuals and investors, mostly in the Middle East or China, and will unfortunately never be seen again. Except when they are sold again.
Incidentally, the auction of the Bourbon-Parma collection (10 pieces of royal jewelry were put up for sale) raised 38 million dollars. And then we can only hope that this jewelry also looks good on the women who get them. You shouldn’t think about buying a piece of jewelry for a lot of money, but it doesn’t fit your stature or doesn’t do anything to your face.
Perhaps they, but also you, can download the PDF from FlorenceJewelshop for free, which contains a lot of tips to find out which jewelry suits you, and especially which jewelry makes you just a little more beautiful than you already are.
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