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THE HISTORIC MARIE-ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS
A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS
THE HISTORIC MARIE-ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS
A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS
THE HISTORIC MARIE-ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS
A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS
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THE HISTORIC MARIE-ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS
A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS
5 More
This lot is subject to standard Swiss VAT rules an… Read more Property of a European Royal Family
THE HISTORIC MARIE-ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS

Details
THE HISTORIC MARIE-ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS
A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS
Old-cut diamonds, silver and yellow gold, commissioned circa 1776, adapted in the 19th century, fitted blue velvet case

Size/Dimensions: 18.7 cm each
Gross weight: 97 grams
Provenance
Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-1793)
Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême (1778-1851)
Louise of Artois, Duchess of Parma and Piacenza (1819-1864)
Robert I, Duke of Parma (1848-1907)
Thence by descent
Special notice

This lot is subject to standard Swiss VAT rules and 7.7% VAT will be charged on the ‘hammer’ and the ‘buyer’s premium’
Please note the following lots require a High Value Paddle for bidding; 9,11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 44, 45, 51, 52, 60, 69, 70, 71, 76 and 77. Should you wish to bid on these lots please contact Rajaa Aidi; raidi@christies.com

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Max Fawcett Head of Department

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Lot Essay

I N T R O D U C T I O N

Marie Antoinette (1755–1793), the last Queen of France, needs no introduction. Her style defines the unique aesthetics of Versailles: opulent and regal, yet youthful and romantic. A tastemaker extraordinaire, then and now.

It is well documented in history that the Queen meticulously wrapped her jewels in cotton herself, intending them for safekeeping outside of revolutionary France. Many of the jewels did not resurface until centuries later.

From this collection is a pair of marvellously beautiful diamond bracelets, kept within the royal descendance for over 200 years. Their royal provenance is impeccable; not only is their line of heritage unbroken and traceable from 1776 onwards, but the bracelets have been featured in two famous historic paintings.

These bracelets travelled through time to recount a most important era of French history, with its glamour, glory and drama. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to handle a set of jewels of such beauty, provenance and significance. For a collector to own them would be a true privilege.

François Curiel
Chairman, Christie's Europe

T H E H I S T O R Y

COMMISSIONED BY HER MAJESTY QUEEN MARIE ANTOINETTE (17551793)

1776: Marie Antoinette had been Queen for two years and was intending to enjoy her life and reign as the queen of elegance and style. She could not resist jewellery – especially diamonds. Her mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780), prompted by regular reports on her daughter’s life at the French court from the Austrian ambassador to France, Count Mercy-Argenteau, often lectured Marie Antoinette about her extravagant spending. In a letter dated 2 September 1776, Empress Maria Theresa wrote, ‘The news from Paris tells me that you have just performed a purchase of bracelets for 250,000 livres and to that effect, you have unsettled your finances.’

Maternal admonishments aside, 250,000 livres was indeed a large sum of money at the time. A recent discovery in the French National Archives gives the identity of the jeweller who created these bracelets.

Although she had received a huge amount of jewellery as wedding presents, both from her mother Empress Marie Thérèse and from King Louis XV of France, Marie Antoinette still adored purchasing new pieces. In 1776 she made two major additions to her collection. First came a spectacular pair of diamond girandoles earrings. Each of them was made of big round diamond from which three pendants were attached. They were bought from Charles Auguste Boehmer, a German jeweller of French protestant background who had recently moved to Paris. The initial price was around 500,000 livres, but the Queen argued that she could replace the central diamonds with two diamonds from her own collection. Therefore the price was reduced to 348,000 livres. The Queen paid 48,000 livres and explained that she would pay the remaining 300,000 livres using money from her savings during the next three or four years.

Later in 1776, Marie Antoinette could not resist a pair of diamonds bracelets. Count Mercy Argenteau, Austrian ambassador to the French court, mentions in one his letters to empress Marie Thérèse that the the queen had to give some of her own diamonds at a very low price, in order to settle the first payment on the bracelets, but he does not mention the name of jeweller. The clue is given by King Louis XVI one year later. Louis XVI was a man of very regular habits who liked to keep his personal accounts in perfect order. His accounting books are kept in the National Archives in Paris. At the end of 1776, he stepped in for the Queen, who had not been able to pay the 300,000 livres still due for the diamond earrings. It took him six years to settle the debt and the first payment was of 24,625 livres. In february 1777, the King mentions a sum of 29,000 livres given to the Queen as a down payment "for the 162,660 she still owes to Boehmer for the diamond bracelets".

Charles Auguste Boehmer was Marie Antoinette's personal appointed jeweller (in opposition with Ange-Jospeh Aubert who was the official crown jeweller). He was famously associated with Paul Bassange in the famous diamond necklace affair in 1784/85

In a 1785 portrait of Marie Antoinette by Adolf Ulrich Wertmuller, now located in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, we see a depiction of the Queen wearing the bracelets, possibly joined together as a chatelaine, in the Gardens of the Petit Trianon with two of her children, including a young Madame Royale.

By Vincent Meylan

E S C A P E F R O M F R A N C E

Count Mercy-Argenteau was the ambassador of the Austrian Empire to France from 1770 to 1790. Under the instructions of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Mercy-Argenteau kept a close eye on her daughter Marie Antoinette, who, in 1770, was about to become the Dauphine of France and subsequently the Queen. During that time, he developed a fondness for Marie Antoinette and considered it his duty to help and protect her. While stationed in Brussels after the outbreak of the French Revolution, he received, on 11 January 1791, a letter from the Queen – then a prisoner in the Tuileries Palace in Paris – announcing that a wooden chest would be sent to him for safekeeping. Smuggling anything out of France was a dangerous venture at the time and the chest finally arrived
in Brussels on 7 March 1791. Mercy-Argenteau stored it unopened and safe for the next couple of years.

On 16 October 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined after an excruciating trial. In February 1794, Emperor Francis II of
Austria ordered the chest be opened in Brussels and an inventory be made before sending the contents to his Vienna court. It was an emotional moment for Mercy-Argenteau: under layer upon layer of stuffing pads, inside the wooden chest was the late Queen of France’s most valuable property. On the top, an inventory list of ‘pearls, ornaments and settings, diamonds and other gemstones’.
The detailed inventory list, signed by Count Mercy-Argenteau, Archduke Charles of Austria and Baron de Mueller, which is now kept in the Austrian National Archives, read ‘Item no. 6 – A pair of bracelets where three diamonds, with the biggest set in the middle, form two barrettes; the two barrettes serve as clasps, each comprising four diamonds and 96 collet-set diamonds’.

The contents of the wooden chest were sent to the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, where it was kept safe for its legitimate
owner – the surviving daughter and sole heir of Marie Antoinette, Madame Royale, Duchesse of Angoulême (1778–1851). She received these jewels in January 1796 upon her arrival in Austria, as recorded in the letters she sent to her cousin, Emperor Francis II.

‘Never before, in my 30 years working as a jewellery historian, have I seen a piece of jewellery made with diamonds which used to belong to Marie Antoinette, and still set in the exact same design as mentioned in the inventory of the jewels sent by Queen Marie Antoinette to Brussels in 1791.’

–Vincent Meylan

T H E L E G AC Y

Madame Royale had a difficult life, but she always held a profound admiration and respect for her parents. In this portrait by Gros, painted in 1816, she is wearing a pair of diamond bracelets consistent with the Brussels inventory. Upon a closer look, the bracelet on the right hand shows four diamonds on the clasp and the bracelets have three strands, supposedly comprising 96 collet-set diamonds.

Kept in the royal descent of Marie Antoinette Madame Royale died childless on 19 October 1851. In her original will, dated 1 July 1851, the entirety of her jewellery collection – including Marie Antoinette's jewels – was to be split in three lots of similar value, bequeathed to her three nieces and nephews: the Count of Chambord, the Countess of Chambord and the Duchess of Parma. In the 1852 inventory of Madame Royale’s property, the total estimated value of the jewels was 430,930 florins.

The pair of bracelets was subsequently listed in the December 1860 will of the Duchess of Parma (1819–1864) amongst the jewels bequeathed to her son, Duke Robert of Parma (1848–1907), citing its provenance from Marie Antoinette. The bracelets were again mentioned with this royal provenance in the penultimate line of the inventory, illustrated overleaf, after the death of the Duchess of Parma in March 1864.

In the illustrated inventory of the jewels belonging to Duke Robert of Parma, dated 1907, the bracelets were photographed and listed with the Marie Antoinette provenance – confirming that the bracelets had been kept within the family for over a century.

Marie Antoinette is one of the most celebrated queens of all time. Despite being known for her taste for luxury, jewels that were originally in her collection rarely appear on today’s market. Of the pieces with a traceable provenance back to the Queen, these bracelets are the only example to include diamonds belonging to her and to retain the design described in the Brussels inventory. Whilst the bracelets may have been adapted, no changes were made to the overall composition and the number of diamonds, except for those on the clasp. Most other jewels that once belonged to Marie Antoinette have been broken up, with the stones remounted into pieces that no longer resemble their original designs.

‘The provenance of those bracelets goes from Marie-Antoinette, who bought them from her jeweller Boehmer, to the Bourbon Parma family through Madame Royale. Each step of the journey is documented by papers I found in the French and Austrian archives. They provide a unique and moving glimpse into two centuries of Royal European history.’

–Vincent Meylan

Vincent Meylan is French journalist, historian and author. During the last three years he has conducted extensive researchs in private and public archives in France and Austria to prepare his next book The Queen's jewels, the legend of Marie Antoinette's diamonds which will be published in French and English in 2022.

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