These are some of my favorite pieces from the stunning jewelry collection of Marie Antionette. Ten of her pieces, from the Bourbon-Parma family, sold at auction in 2018 after being in private collections for over 200 years. Sotheby’s is called the sale “one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to come to auction.” Marie Antionette’s natural saltwater peal and diamond bow pendant broke a record for a pearl sale, coming in at over $36 million.
During the 1700’s cultured pearls did not exist. Free divers would have to descend more than 100 feet on a single breath to manually gather oysters. Because of this, pearls became the make of wealth and privilege and were more revered than diamonds.
These pieces were some of the many which King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were able to smuggle out before their family prepared their escape in March 1791. The queen placed all her diamonds, rubies, and pearls in a wooden chest, which made its way to Brussels in the care of Count Argenteau who then sent them to the Austrian Emperor (Marie Antionette’s nephew) in Vienna for safekeeping.
Prior to Marie Antoinette’s reign, philosopher Rousseau cited that a 16th-century princess had uttered “Let them Eat Cake” upon hearing that her people were starving. In reality, the phrase was likely later attributed to Marie Antoinette in order to account for her fall from grace. Despite popular belief, there is no historical evidence that Marie Antoinette ever uttered the famous quote “let them eat cake.” In fact, it was likely a rumor started as a way of further decreasing her popularity among the general French population. The first recording of Marie Antoinette in relation to the phrase did not occur until 50 years after her death.
After Marie Antionette’s execution, her only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France was released from three years of solitary confinement in 1795 and sent to Austria. There, she was reunited with he mother’s jewelry. She had no children of her own but left the jewelry with her Bourbon-Parma family members where it remained for over 200 years, until auction off in 2018.