19 June 2018

On the Block: Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family

A model wears Maria Teresa of Savoy's diamond girandole earrings and Marie Antoinette's diamond and pearl pendant in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

A big royal jewelry story is currently brewing in Geneva, where Sotheby's is preparing to auction more than 100 pieces of jewelry from the Bourbon-Parma family. Although the sale is still months away, the auction house is already calling it "one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to come to auction." Previews are just starting, and we've got a first look at some of the jewels that will be offered this November.




A model wears Maria Teresa of Savoy's diamond girandole earrings and Marie Antoinette's diamond and pearl pendant in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

According to 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 auction house is heavily advertising the connection of some of the jewels to Queen Marie Antoinette of France. The press release for the auction tells the dramatic tale: Marie Antoinette packed up her jewels and shipped them to her sister, Marie Christine, in Brussels; in turn, Marie Christine entrusted the jewels to a courtier, who took them to Vienna and placed them in the hands of Marie Antoinette's nephew, Emperor Francis II. When Marie Antoinette's daughter, the Duchess of Angoulême (also known as "Madame Royale"), finally arrived in Austria in 1796, Francis gave her the jewels. The Duchess, who had no children of her own, eventually left some of her jewels to her niece, Princess Louise, Duchess of Parma -- and that's how they ended up in Bourbon-Parma hands, where they've been until now.


A model displays Marie Antoinette's diamond and pearl pendant in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

Because the sale is still so many months away, we don't yet have access to detailed lot notes for each piece. But Sotheby's has offered us a few tidbits of information about the jewels. This diamond and pearl pendant is one of the jewels that the auction house states once belonged to Marie Antoinette. The press release explains that "among the star lots of the collection is a stunning diamond pendant, supporting a natural pearl of exceptional size (26mm x 18mm)." The auction estimate for this piece is currently set at $1-2 million USD.


A model wears a necklace strung with natural pearls from the collection of Marie Antoinette in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

This pearl necklace is also advertised as having a connection to Marie Antoinette, but we'll have to wait for the lot notes for clarification. The press information currently available notes that the "fabulous" necklace is a "testament to the splendour and opulence of the French court," noting that it features "331 natural pearls." What's not entirely clear, though, is whether the necklace in its current form belonged to Marie Antoinette or just the pearls themselves did. (I'm guessing it's the latter.) A pair of natural pearl drop earrings are mentioned as having the same provenance as this necklace.


A model wears a necklace strung with natural pearls from the collection of Marie Antoinette in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

We also don't have a creation date for the three-stranded pearl necklace. The piece features a striking round diamond clasp that includes an eight-pointed star in its design. The current auction estimate for the necklace is set at $200,000-300,000 USD.


A model wears a necklace strung with natural pearls from the collection of Marie Antoinette in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

Here's a closer view of the clasp, which shows that some of the diamonds appear to be set using a millegrain technique, which wasn't developed until the late nineteenth-century. You'll note that the clasp of this necklace is very similar to one from the collection of the Duchess of Cornwall. (You can read about her pearls over here.)


A model wears a diamond demi-parure that belonged to Princess Louise, Duchess of Parma in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

The preview includes one more suite of jewels with links to Marie Antoinette. According to the press release, five of the 95 diamonds set in this diamond demi-parure belonged to the famous French queen. The suite was made for Princess Louise, Duchess of Parma (who, mentioned above, was a niece of Marie Antoinette's daughter, the Duchess of Angoulême). The suite includes three pieces: a necklace, a pair of earrings, and a floral brooch. Its current auction estimate is set at $300,000-500,000 USD.

This is one of the pieces from the collection that integrates gems connected with Marie Antoinette as well as those with other royal pedigrees. The demi-parure also includes diamonds taken from a sword that belonged to Princess Louise's father, the Duke of Berry. The press notes also claim that one of the large, pear-shaped diamonds in the suite was once owned by Archduchess Isabella of Austria, who was a child when Princess Louise died. That particular diamond must have therefore been a later addition to Louise's demi-parure.

Isabella's sister, Archduchess Maria Anna, was the wife of Prince Elias, Duke of Parma (who was Princess Louise's grandson). Elias's daughter, Infanta Alicia, died in 2017, and she's thought to be the last royal owner of many of the jewels being auctioned. It would make sense that Isabella, who had no children of her own, may have passed the diamond to her sister's family.


A diamond ring from the collection of Archduchess Maria Anna, Duchess of Parma (Sotheby's)

Other jewels from Maria Anna's collection are also included in the sale, including an elaborate diamond scroll tiara from Köchert (a wedding gift from her great-uncle, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, estimated at $80,000-120,000); a large diamond and sapphire cluster brooch (a wedding gift from her mother, Princess Isabella of Croÿ, estimated at $150,000-250,000); a large diamond and ruby bow brooch (a gift from her father, Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen, estimated at $200,000-300,000); and this ring, which is set with a large fancy orangey-pink diamond (also a gift from the Duke of Teschen, estimated at $120,000-180,000).


A model wears Maria Teresa of Savoy's diamond girandole earrings in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

The collection of Bourbon-Parma jewels being sold also includes pieces from another side of the family. This nineteenth-century pair of diamond girandole earrings belonged to Princess Maria Teresa of Savoy, the Italian-born mother-in-law of Princess Louise, Duchess of Parma. They were inherited by Princess Louise's son (and Princess Maria Teresa's grandson), Prince Robert, Duke of Parma. The press information supplied describes the earrings as "exceptional," and notes that their current auction estimate is set at $150,000-250,000 USD.


A model wears Maria Teresa of Savoy's diamond girandole earrings and Marie Antoinette's diamond and pearl pendant in London, 12 June 2018 (Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

Press previews for the auction will be held all over the world this summer and autumn, making stops in Geneva, Milan, Munich, Cologne, London, Hong Kong, and New York. The jewels will be sold in Geneva on November 12. We'll be following this one closely!