Revolutionaries might fume about the fuss made over royalty but it was revolutionary fervour that gave Marie Antoinette her place in history. So the tremendous prices struck by the auctioneer’s hammer resulted from the executioner’s guillotine.
Among the November 14 sales was $36.16 million for a pearl and diamond pendant that once adorned the queen. Having asked for an opening bid of 900,000 Swiss francs, about US$895,000, Sotheby’s caller barely contained his delight as the price escalated within minutes to an auction record for a natural pearl. Sotheby’s had previously hoped for a maximum $2 million.
Other items also surpassed pre-sale estimates as infamy at the Paris chopping block fueled excitement at the Geneva auction block. Ten pieces from the doomed queen brought a total of $42.7 million, compared with a pre-sale high estimate of $2.9 million. They formed part of a 100-piece collection from the Bourbon Parma family that reached $53.1 million, far above the $7-million estimate and a record for any sale of royal jewels, Sotheby’s reported. A 1987 sale of Duchess of Windsor glitter set a previous record of $50.3 million.
Other highlights included a three-strand pearl necklace from the neckless monarch, which sold for $2.28 million and a diamond brooch that brought $2.1 million. A diamond ring containing a lock of the would-be heir’s hair got $443,786, 50 times its estimate. Participants from 43 countries joined in the event, 55% taking part online.
“Tonight we saw the Marie Antoinette factor work its magic,” gushed Sotheby’s Daniela Mascetti. “No other queen is more famous for her love of jewels, and her personal treasures, pearls and diamonds that survived intact the tumults of history captivated the interest of collectors around the world.”