Marie Antoinette’s Pearl Pendant Sells For $36 Million At Sotheby’s Auction

The French Queen's pearl and diamond pendant was smuggled to Austria before her beheading

A model poses for photographers wearing jewelry previously belonging to Marie Antoinette, at Sotheby's
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

The French Queen's pearl and diamond pendant was smuggled to Austria before her beheading

One single piece of Marie Antoinette’s jewelry just sold at auction over its estimate for $36 million. The Bourbon pearl necklace with pearl and diamond pendant alone (not including the matching earrings) went for a price which surprised all at the Sotheby’s auction.

Town and Country says that while all of the items from the Italian Bourbon-Parma family line exceeded their estimates, the pearl necklace with the pearl and diamond pendant was the star of the Sotheby’s auction in Geneva, Italy. The auction house thought that the item would sell for around $2 million, but the bidders kept going until the hammer hit at $36 million.

The French queen’s pearl necklace set the record, exceeding the prior record by three times the selling price for Elizabeth Taylor’s pearl necklace in 2011, which sold for $11 million.

Also sold in the auction for Marie Antoinette’s Bourbon-Parma jewelry was her diamond ring, complete with her initials and a lock of her hair. Sotheby’s put the high estimate on this piece at $10,000, and it sold for $447,000 at the auction.

Marie Antoinette was able to smuggle these pieces out of France and back to her family in Austria when tensions increased for the royal family.

Eddie LeVian, the CEO of Le Vian, says that this jewelry is about far more than just beautiful gems; the pieces are tied to French history.

“This is about far more than the gems themselves: Marie Antoinette’s jewelry is inextricably linked to the cause of the French Revolution.”

The Daily Mail said that more than two years before she was beheaded, Marie Antoinette and her lady in waiting, Madame Campan, packed up the queen’s jewels one night and shipped them to her family home in Austria. Each jewel was wrapped in cotton and packed in a casket, including those stones which were clipped from her dresses. This was done in the Tuileries Palace where the royal family was banished in 1789.

The beautiful and luxurious jewels did not have a direct passage to Austria, as they were passed through a number of hands.

“In the first stage of the queen’s doomed escape plan, her beloved jewels were to be passed, via the Comte de Mercy-Argenteau (the Austrian ambassador to France), to Marie Antoinette’s nephew, the Emperor of Austria, in Vienna for safekeeping.”

After years in Vienna, the jewels were claimed by Marie Antoinette’s only surviving child, Marie-Therese, and from there they stayed in the house of Parma and were not seen in public for almost 200 years.