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JEWELLERY

Marie Antoinette pendant fetches $36 million, shattering estimate

A pearl and diamond pendant owned by Marie Antoinette before she was beheaded during the French Revolution sold for $36 million at an auction on Wednesday, shattering its pre-sale estimate of up to $2 million.

Marie Antoinette pendant fetches $36 million, shattering estimate
The pearl and diamond pendant were the centrepiece of Wednesday's auction. Photo: AFP

The Sotheby's auction at an ultra-luxurious hotel on the banks of Lake Geneva saw feverish bidding for a 10-piece collection owned by the ill-fated queen, featuring jewels unseen in public for two centuries.

The 10 items, which had been estimated to fetch a total of roughly $3 million, sold for a combined sum of nearly $43 million, Sotheby's said.

The 'Queen Marie Antoinette Pearl' (C) with other jewellery from the 'Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family' collection. Photo: AFP

A diamond brooch pegged to go for roughly $80,000 (70,000 euros) sold for $1.75 million, excluding fees, one of several pieces that brought in more than 20 times its estimated worth. 

But the highlight was the pendant featuring an oval diamond and drop-shaped pearl, which Sotheby's said went to an anonymous, private buyer, without giving further details.

Read also: 'Incomparable' $50-million pink diamond smashes record at Geneva auction

Sotheby's also said the pendant set a new record price for a pearl jewel sold at auction.

“Marie Antoinette's pendant is simply irreplaceable and the price it fetched is about far more than the gem itself,” Eddie LeVian, the chief executive of jewellers Le Vian, said in a statement.

“It captures everyone's imagination,” he added.

“This is the ultimate proof, if it were needed, that the world's ultra high net worth individuals love rare, natural fancy coloured diamond and pearls jewels as investments, and especially those with royal provenance.”

Journey through Europe

Marie Antoinette's treasures were the centrepieces of a sale featuring 100 jewels held by the Italian royal House of Bourbon-Parma. 

Sotheby's, which had billed the event as one of the most important royal jewellery auctions in history, said the night did not disappoint. 

The 100 lots earned a total of $53.1 million – compared to a pre-sale estimate of $4.2 million – a performance that bested a previous record set in 1987 when Sotheby's sold a collection of jewel's once held by the House of Windsor.  

Marie Antoinette, who historians say was reviled by much of the French public over her lavish spending in the midst of a national financial crisis, was guillotined in Paris in October 1793 at the age of 37. 

After her death, her jewels followed a winding path highlighting European power dynamics in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

According to accounts written by the queen's lady-in-waiting, Madame Campan, Marie Antoinette spent an entire evening in the Tuileries Palace wrapping all her diamonds, rubies and pearls in cotton and enclosing them in a wooden chest.

They were sent to Brussels, governed by her sister Archduchess Marie-Christine, before being sent on to the French queen's native Austria, and into the safe-keeping of her nephew, the emperor.

In 1792, the royal family was imprisoned in Paris. The king and queen were executed the next year, and their 10-year-old son died in captivity.

Only their daughter, Marie Therese of France, survived. She was sent to Austria in 1796, where she was given her mother's jewels.

She had no children herself, but passed on the treasures to her niece and adopted daughter, Louise of France, Duchess of Parma, who in turn left them to her son, Robert I (1848-1907), the last ruling Duke of Parma.

They have been privately owned by relatives ever since.

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DIAMOND

Rare pink diamond to go under hammer in Geneva

An extremely rare pink diamond will be auctioned in Geneva on November 11 by Sotheby's, which says it is worth between $23 and $38 million.

Rare pink diamond to go under hammer in Geneva
A model poses with the “The Spirit of the Rose” diamond during a press preview on Friday. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Named “The Spirit of the Rose” after a famous Russian ballet, the 14.83-carat diamond mined in Russia is the biggest ever to go under the hammer in its category — “fancy vivid purple-pink”.
 
The occurrence of pink diamonds in nature is extremely rare in any size,” Gary Schuler, head of Sotheby's jewellery division, said in a statement. “Only one per cent of all pink diamonds are larger than 10-carats.”
   
Speaking to AFP, Benoit Repellin, head of fine jewellery auctions at Sotheby's Geneva, said the oval-shaped diamond was “completely pure.”
 
 
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The rough diamond was unearthed by Russia's Alrosa — one of the world's leading diamond producers — in the Republic of Sakha in the northeast of the country in July 2017.
   
Repellin said it took a painstaking year for cutting masters to turn the diamond into its polished form.
   
Sotheby's said the world auction record for a diamond and any gemstone or jewel was the “CTF Pink Star”, a 59.60-carat oval pink diamond that sold for $71.2 million in Hong Kong in 2017.
   
According to Repellin, five out of the 10 most valuable diamonds ever sold at auction were pink.
   
The sale of this gem coincides with the closure of the world's largest pink diamond mine in Australia after it exhausted its reserves of the precious stones.
   
The Argyle mine, in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, churned out more than 90 percent of the world's pink diamonds.
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