Two diamond bracelets that Marie Antoinette sent away in a wooden chest for safekeeping before she was guillotined during the French Revolution, have sold at auction in Geneva for 7.46m Swiss francs (£7.04m).
The sum was several times higher than the pre-sale estimate, amid a growing interest in items of jewellery and clothing belonging to the former French queen. The buyer was bidding by telephone and not identified.
The Austrian-born monarch who arrived in France aged 14 to marry the future Louis XVI had the diamond bracelets custom made in 1776, two years after she became queen. Each bracelet is composed of three strings of diamonds and a large barrette clasp, totalling 112 diamonds, including “old cut” stones and silver and gold.
Marie Antoinette was known to have carefully wrapped her jewels in cotton herself, hoping to keep them outside revolutionary France. She sent the two diamond bracelets in a wooden box to a former Austrian ambassador who was in Brussels, with a letter instructing him to keep them in a safe place.
Max Fawcett, head of Christie’s jewellery department said before the sale: “Despite Marie Antoinette’s capture in the French Revolution and her unfortunate death in 1793, the bracelets survived and were passed on to her daughter, Madame Royale, and then the Duchess of Parma.”
Marie Antoinette’s surviving daughter, Marie Thérèse received the jewels on her arrival in Austria, the auction house added.
The bracelets were kept within royal lineage for more than 200 years, Christie’s said.
“To find jewels with over 200 years of French royal history is truly something that collectors and passionate jewellery people from all over the world will be keeping an eye on,” Fawcett added. “We have seen the results before of things sold by Marie Antoinette, that there really is no limit to how high these can go and I’m expecting fireworks [at the auction].”