Marie Antoinette’s pearl and diamond pendant fetches $36 million at auction

Marie Antoinette, France's last queen, is still able to capture the imagination of the public -- or at least buyers with a lot of spare cash -- more than 200 years after her unfortunate end.

Marie Antoinette, France’s last queen, is still able to capture the imagination of the public — or at least buyers with a lot of spare cash — more than 200 years after her unfortunate end.

A pearl and diamond pendant from the late monarch’s private collection, which Sotheby’s billed as “one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to come to auction,” fetched more than $36 million Wednesday evening in Geneva, Switzerland. The item smashed pre-sale estimates that had valued it between $1 million and $2 million.

Auction house Sotheby’s tweeted that the price, which includes the buyer’s premium, has set a new auction record for a pearl.

The pendant is part of an opulent collection that included a diamond double-ribbon-bow brooch, which sold for more than $2.1 million, and a monogram ring with woven strands of Antoinette’s hair, which went for around $440,000. A pearl and diamond necklace was scooped up for $2.2 million.

The collection was part of a larger auction comprising items from the Bourbon Parma family, one of Europe’s most significant dynastic houses. In total, the 100 items brought in more than $53 million.

The family is linked to French royals, including Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI, as well as kings of Spain, emperors of Austria and dukes of Parma.

Smuggled out

In March 1791, the queen’s jewelry was wrapped and placed in a wooden chest and smuggled out of France to Vienna for safekeeping during the French Revolution by Count Mercy Argentau, a loyal retainer to the queen.

Both Antoinette, an Austrian archduchess by birth, and her husband Louis XVI were arrested months later and executed by guillotine in 1793. Their son died in captivity shortly afterward at the age of 10.

“Their last surviving child Marie-Thérèse, known as ‘Madame Royale,’ was released from three years of solitary confinement in 1795. Upon her eventual arrival in Vienna in 1796 she reclaimed her mother’s jewels, which had been kept safe by her cousin, the Austrian Emperor,” Sotheby’s said in a statement.

The collection was kept in the family for more than 200 years. Some of the jewels went on public display for the first time this fall, when they were taken to New York, Dubai, London, Singapore and Taipei on a pre-auction international tour.