With films like Marie Antoinette, the Oscar-winner directed by Sofia Coppola, and the best-selling novel by Caroline Weber entitled Queen of Fashion, it seems that people have an ongoing infatuation with the last queen of France. Even those who haven’t heard or read about Antoinette’s story will eventually come to understand her opulent taste and legendary lavishness.
Therefore, one should take note of the Magnificent Jewelry auction on December 12 at Christie’s London, which includes a historically important natural pearl, diamond, and ruby necklace, the pearls of which belonged to Marie Antoinette. At this auction, one has the opportunity to actually own the extravagant essence that made the young royal so memorable.
The Austrian-born queen married King Louis XVI at age 14 in 1770, leaving life as she knew it behind. It was a proposed tradition to present the queen-to-be with a collection of jewelry. Starting her collection off strong, Antoinette received gems valued at an estimated 2 million livre, including an elaborate diamond necklace that once belonged to Queen Consort of France, Anne of Austria, and the jewels of Queen Catherine de Medici. Soon after their marriage and the coronation of King Louis, Antoinette started to live in a small private château within the grounds of her own palace. It was renovated very often with costs that spiraled out of control. It became obvious that the queen didn’t comprehend the value of money, even when her country’s economy started to unravel and stood at the edge of bankruptcy.
After finally consummating their marriage and producing heirs to the throne nearly a decade later, Antoinette started to lead a very full life dedicated to her children, and charity work was favored over extravagancies and unnecessary indulgences. She also started to dress in a more conservative manner, refusing to purchase any more jewels for her personal collection or wear her infamously elaborate wig pieces. Antoinette’s ill-fated early lifestyle choices left France with hatred so strong for the royal family that the country soon broke out into a revolution. After three of her children died and the king was beheaded for treason, Antoinette was soon noted as being one of the bravest and most dignified queens of her time, despite most everyone’s unfavorable opinion of her throughout her reign. She was later tried for treason herself, amongst many other outlandish charges, and killed by decapitation in 1793.
Novelists, historians, and filmmakers have come to portray the queen as someone who lived a life of great turmoil, which she overcame with admirable courage and nobility, thus dying with integrity. It is with that notion of integrity that any of her prized possessions will be of great value to any collector.
It is believed that during Queen Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment, her dear friend Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, also known as Lady Sutherland (wife of then British ambassador, Lord George Leveson-Gower), was given a sumptuous collection of diamonds and pearls for safekeeping, in hopes that Antoinette would escape the deadly revolution and reclaim them. Since then, the jewels have remained in the Sutherland-Leveson-Gower family.
The pearls, which date circa 1780, were originally given to Lady Sutherland along with loose diamonds in a bag, with which she later went on to craft the Sutherland diamond necklace. Some of the pearls were used to create the piece that is being offered at Sotheby’s London. The necklace is a stunning historical collector’s piece with a fringe of 21 graduated drop-shaped gray natural pearls, each suspended from a diamond cullet attached to a diamond ribbon that intertwines with a ruby collar. The collar is set with 12 button-shaped gray natural pearls that are mounted in gold. It is estimated to receive bids of $800,000.
The anonymous seller, one of Lady Sutherland’s many descendents, says the necklace has remained in a bank safe until now, and hopes for the piece to be available for public viewing after it is bought at the auction. Wherever it ends up, it is sure to be a feat for the lucky high bidder that gains access to such a prominent piece in history.