It was a banner year for royal jewelry sales at the world’s most famous auction houses, with pieces from the Bourbons, the Romanovs, the Battenbergs, and the Bonapartes taking center stage. Here’s a look at some of the most fantastic royal pieces that were sold when the hammer fell in 2021.
In March, the family of the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma mounted a major auction of family jewels and art objects at Sotheby’s in London. Among them were fabulous tutti frutti jewels owned by Edwina Mountbatten. This necklace, made in the 1950s, is set with carved rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, plus scattered diamonds. The jewel sold for an impressive 107,100 pounds. A coordinating pair of earrings, made two decades earlier, brought 17,640 pounds.
On November 9, a truly astonishing pair of jewels were sold at Christie’s in Geneva: matching diamond bracelets made for Marie Antoinette, still in their original form. The paired bracelets were made in 1776 by Charles Auguste Böhmer. After the revolution, the bracelets were saved, and they were passed on later to Marie Antoinette’s daughter, the Duchess of Angoulême. They stayed with the extended family over the years, and were offered for sale by Christie’s in Geneva on behalf of an unnamed European royal family. When the hammer fell, the bracelets sold for an incredible 7,459,000 francs (around $8.1 million USD!).
The bracelets weren’t the only French royal jewels from the November 9 auction at Christie’s in Geneva. The sale also included a rare diamond and ruby brooch. The jewel was originally an earring, part of a grand parure of jewels made in 1811 for Empress Marie Louise, Napoleon’s second wife. The set was later remade for Marie Antoinette’s daughter, the Duchess of Angoulême. The rubies were state property, and they stayed in France as various royal families came and went during the nineteenth century. The jewel was sold in 1887 along with the rest of the French crown jewels, and it’s not known where it’s been in the interim. An unnamed noble family offered the piece for auction this autumn. The jewel brought in 250,000 francs (around $272,000 USD).
The November 9 auction at Christie’s in Geneva also included a magnificent royal tiara. This delicate, amazing diamond ears of wheat tiara was made for Pauline Bonaparte Borghese (Napoleon’s sister) by François Regnault Nitot in 1811. The jewel stayed with the extended Borghese family for two centuries, until its recent sale in Geneva. The convertible jewel sold for a remarkable 810,000 francs (approximately $880,000 USD).
A pair of tiaras that supposedly belonged to Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife, also hit the auction block this year. The golden diadems, set with ancient cameos and intaglios, date to 1805. One was made by Jacques-Ambroise Oliveras. Napoleon loved to lavish jewels with references to ancient Greece and Rome on the women in his life, and it’s easy to picture Josephine wearing both tiaras. Both tiaras and their coordinating jewels were sold at Sotheby’s in London on December 7. The intaglio parure sold for 450,600 pounds, while the cameo diadem and jewels brought in 126,000 pounds.
Jewels associated with the Romanovs are always a big hit at auctions, so it’s no surprise that this diamond and sapphire set from the collection of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (Grand Duchess Vladimir) brought in big money at Sotheby’s in Geneva on November 10. The brooch and earrings, made by Bolin, were some of the pieces smuggled out of St. Petersburg after the revolution, adding a little extra mystique to the sale. The jewel far surpassed their auction estimate, selling for a whopping 806,500 francs (or approximately $875,000).
And finally, this charming diamond and sapphire palmette tiara, which has a very romantic royal backstory, was also offered for sale at Sotheby’s in Geneva on November 10. It belonged to the opera singer Johanna Loisinger, who married Prince Alexander of Battenberg (great-uncle of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) after his brief tenure as the sovereign Prince of Bulgaria. The lovely tiara brought 113,400 francs at auction (around $123,000 USD).