Two diamond bracelets that once belonged to Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), the queen of France, have sold at Christie’s in Geneva for CHF 7.5 million (£6.1 million). The jewellery, which includes 112 diamonds in total, outshone the pre-sale estimate by more than double.
Each bracelet is secured with a large barrette clasp and composed of 56 old cut diamonds in three strings. The style is typical of Marie Antoinette’s personal jeweller, Charles Auguste Boehmer. After spending more than two centuries hidden away in a private royal collection, the bracelets are a rare example of royal jewellery.
“What is miraculous is that they have remained together and intact when they could have easily been broken up, as many other jewels of royal provenance have been,” remarked Jean-Marc Lunel, senior international specialist in the Jewellery department at Christie’s in Geneva.
For the first time ever, the bracelets were offered for sale at Geneva Magnificent Jewels on 9 November. Before the auction, the head of Christie’s jewellery department Max Fawcett said “we have seen the results before of things sold by Marie Antoinette, that there really is no limit to how high these can go and I’m expecting fireworks.” An anonymous telephone bidder won the royal treasures.
Born in Austria in 1755, Marie Antoinette was sent to France at the age of 14 to marry the future King Louis XVI (1754-1793). She died only a few months after her husband on the guillotine, having become increasingly unpopular with the people for her supposedly lavish lifestyle and opposition to social reforms.
The bracelets were commissioned by her husband two years after their marriage. It is estimated that they were purchased from Boehmer for 250,000 livres — a sum equivalent to around £3.4 million in today’s money.
Whilst imprisoned during the French revolution, Marie Antoinette reportedly smuggled the extraordinary jewellery in a wooden chest out of the country to Austria. Her only surviving child Marie Therese (1778-1851), Madame Royale, received the secret jewels upon her arrival in Vienna in 1796. There they remained within the family for more than 200 years.
“These bracelets travelled through time to recount a most important era of French history, with its glamour, glory and drama,” explained Francois Curiel, chairman for Christie’s Europe.