The jewels of the most famous queen of France have not been seen in public for 200 years. The illustrious ancestry of kings and queens of Europe is demonstrated by the extraordinary opulence of the Bourbon-Parma family, linked by blood to the most important ruling families in Europe, from the Bourbons to the Habsburgs.
The young queen, who was 18 when she ascended the throne in 1774, was known for her extravagant lifestyle. The notorious “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” is believed to have played a major role in precipitating the French Revolution. The queen’s fragile reputation, already damaged by gossip, was ruined by the false implication that she defrauded the crown jewellers. The scandal increased the French populace’s disillusionment with the monarchy, which eventually, among other factors, lead to the French Revolution from 1789 until 1799.
In March 1791, as Queen Marie Antoinette was preparing to flee France to evade the revolution, she had her jewels wrapped in cotton and smuggled out of the palace. The jewels were kept safe by a confidant in Brussels, and from there, delivered to the queen’s nephew for safekeeping, where the jewels have been kept in the Bourbon-Parma family ever since. On 16 October 1793, Marie Antoinette was beheaded at Place de la Révolution after a two day show trial.
Says Daniela Mascetti, deputy chairman, Sotheby’s Jewellery Europe and senior international specialist: “It is one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history. Never before seen in public, this extraordinary group of jewels offers a captivating insight into the lives of its owners going back hundreds of years. What is also striking is the inherent beauty of the pieces themselves: the precious gems they are adorned with and the exceptional craftsmanship they display are stunning in their own right.”
The Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family auction is at Sotheby’s Geneva on 12 November 2018.