|DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images|
The print and online catalogues for next week’s landmark Bourbon-Parma jewelry auction are officially up, and we’ve finally got more information on a set of jewels I’ve been very curious about: the pearl suite that belonged to Marie Antoinette.
|Marie Antoinette in pearls, painted ca. 1790 by Alexander Kucharsky (Wikimedia Commons)|
Marie Antoinette was often painted with pearls, and her collection included some remarkable pearl pieces. After her execution, the pearls we’re discussing today were inherited by her daughter, Marie Therese. Known as “Madame Royale” from birth, Marie Therese became the Duchess of Angouleme when she married a cousin, Prince Louis Antoine, in 1799. The couple were technically King and Queen of France, in a reign that lasted a whole twenty minutes — the period of time after Louis Antoine’s father, King Charles X, signed his abdication papers and before Louis Antoine subsequently also signed the abdication document.
|Princess Louise, Duchess of Parma wears the pearl necklace and pendant in a portrait by Prosper Raffi, ca. 1849 (Wikimedia Commons)|
Marie Therese did not have any children of her own, but she did have a niece and a nephew, the children of Louis Antoine’s brother, the Duke of Berry. Her niece, Princess Louise, married the Duke of Parma; she’s the one who inherited the pearl suite, which remained with her descendants until this year. Look closely at the portrait above, and you’ll see Marie Antoinette’s pearl necklace and pendant around Louise’s own neck.
Two generations later, the pearl suite was recorded in a jewelry inventory compiled by Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, the wife of Louise’s grandson, Prince Elias, Duke of Parma. She noted that the “grande parure de perles” that belonged to Marie Antoinette included a necklace with three rows of round pearls, with a pearl pendant suspended from a diamond bow, and fastened by a a diamond clasp. The necklace as described by Maria Anna is pictured above.
Maria Anna also listed a pair of pearl earrings as part of the suite (“deux boucles d’oreilles, boutons et poires en perles”). The earrings feature pearl studs from which large brilliants and pearl drops are suspended.
|DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images|
The pearl necklace has undergone some renovations since the inventory was created, but now, the pearls from this suite are all being sold in the upcoming auction at Sotheby’s, divided into four separate lots.
Lot 97, which is estimated to sell for between $202,350 and $303,525, includes 119 of the 161 pearls from the original necklace. That original necklace was restrung as a sautoir in the early 20th century, and then restrung again into this three-row necklace, which features a large diamond clasp, and a separate single-stranded necklace.
Lot 98 is that single-stranded necklace, which is estimated to sell for between $40,470 and $70,823. It features 40 pearls and a detachable diamond clasp. The lot notes indicate that 39 of the pearls are natural saltwater and one is cultured.
The earrings from the parure are presented as lot 99 in the auction, and they’re estimated to bring between $202,350 and $303,525. The earrings are described as follows in the lot notes: “Each surmount set with a button shaped natural pearl measuring approximately 12.65 x 12.95 x 15.60mm and 12.95 x 13.10 x 16.00mm respectively, the reverse set with rose diamonds, supporting a detachable pendant set with an oval natural pearl measuring approximately 10.25 x 10.50 x 8.55mm and 10.15 x 10.20 x 7.70mm respectively, capped with rose diamonds, and a pinched collet-set cushion-shaped diamond.” The notes also indicate that the earrings feature “early 19th century, hook and hinged back fittings,” which naturally would have been added after Marie Antoinette’s death.
The final and perhaps grandest part of Marie Antoinette’s pearl parure, the large pendant featuring a diamond brilliant, a diamond bow, and a pear-shaped pearl, is lot 100. It’s the whopper of the sale, estimated to bring between one and two million dollars. You’ll note that the oval-shaped diamond at the top of the pendant was originally the clasp in Marie Antoinette’s necklace. The lot notes indicate that the pearl has been tested and is indeed a natural saltwater pearl.