The property of a European royal family, the diamonds are set to go on sale in November this year
September 10, 2021: Originally belonging to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-1793), 112 diamonds are being presented in their current form, set as a historic pair of bracelets, by auction house Christie’s. Estimated at USD $2,000,000 to USD $4,000,000, the Marie Antoinette Diamonds would be offered as lot 1 of Christie’s live Magnificent Jewels Auction on November 9, 2021, at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.
Marie Antoinette was recognised as the queen of elegance and style, and by 1776, she had been the Queen of France for two years. Unable to resist jewellery, especially diamonds, she had bought these two diamond bracelets in the spring of 1776, for a huge sum at the time - 250,000 livres. And according to Austria’s Ambassador to France, Count Mercy-Argenteau, this sum was partly paid in gemstones from the Queen’s collection and partly with the funds she received from King Louis XVI. In February 1777, in the personal papers of King Louis XVI, it is stated, ‘to the Queen: down payment of 29,000 livres for the diamond bracelets she bought from Boehmer’, as shown in the recent discoveries by jewellery historian, Vincent Meylan.
These diamonds come with an illustrative legacy, complete with a story of an escape from France. In 1790, Count Mercy-Argenteau took office in Brussels after leaving his post as Ambassador of the Austrian Empire to France. He received a letter on January 11, 1791, from Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was then a prisoner in the Tuileries in Paris. It read that a wooden chest would be sent to him for safekeeping, and for the next couple of years, Mercy-Argenteau stored it, unopened. It was only after Marie Antoinette was guillotined in October 1793 that the Emperor Francis II of Austria (1768-1835) ordered the chest to be opened in Brussels in February 1794, and an inventory to be made. The inventory read as ‘Item no. 6 - A pair of bracelets where three diamonds, with the biggest set in the middle, form two barrettes; the two barrettes serve as clasps, each comprising four diamonds and 96 collet-set diamonds’. The surviving daughter of Marie-Antoinette, Madame Royale (1778-1851) received these jewels in January 1796 upon her arrival in Austria.
In an 1816 portrait painted by Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), Madame Royale can be seen wearing a pair of diamond bracelets, which are consistent with the Brussels inventory. Madame Royale died on October 19, 1851, and as she was childless, her will dated July 1, 1851 states that the entirety of her jewellery collection, including the Marie Antoinette jewels, would be divided among her three nieces and nephews: Count of Chambord (1820-1883), Countess of Chambord (1817-1886) and Duchess of Parma (1819-1864).
Out of all the pieces with a traceable provenance back to the Queen of France, these extraordinary bracelets are the only example to include diamonds belonging to her and to retain the exact design described in the Brussels inventory. Though it may be possible that the bracelets might have been remounted a later stage, no changes were made to the overall composition and the number of diamonds, except for those on the clasp, were kept identical as per the inventory.