Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family: Sotheby’s Geneva

Diamonds & Rubies
Diamonds & Rubies

Ruby and diamond brooch/hair ornament, circa 1905, Gift from Archduke Friedrich of Austria, courtesy Sotheby’s.

Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family is a heading that demands attention for the international auction house Sotheby’s.

It is offering over 100 lots of ‘love jewellery’ for sale on November 12, 2018. Each fabulouos piece has historical, royal and noble connections to the great family houses of Europe.

They include Queen Marie Antoinette, King Charles X of France, The Archdukes of Austria and Dukes of Parma.

Diamond & Pearl 1

From Queen Marie Antoinette of France, 18th century exceptional diamond and natural pearl and diamond pendant, courtesy Sotheby’s.

The collection sale includes a stunning array of diamonds and pearls.

Diamonds are the hardest natural material known on the earth and reflect the inherent qualities of endurance and longevity. They are also symbolic of love relationships.

Pearls, a subject of nature originally, were under scientific scrutiny for centuries. They were being dived for in the Arabian Gulf before the Christ Event and for early Roman Christians, stood for purity and chastity.

Sometimes thousands of oyster shells had to be opened to find just one and so it is no surprise today historical natural pearls are becoming rare.

Pearls created since the beginning of the twentieth century are cultivated in a process where man interferes with nature.

Daniela Mascetti, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Jewellery Europe and Senior International Specialist said

“It is one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history.

Diamond Earrings

From Marie Therese of Savoy, Duchess of Parma (1803-1879) nineteenth century, pair of diamond earrings photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Never before seen in public, this extraordinary group of jewels offers a captivating insight into the lives of its owners going back hundreds of years. What is also striking is the inherent beauty of the pieces themselves” he said.

The French Revolution was partly responsible for the destruction of a great deal of Jewellery prior to the nineteenth century, because the republican ideals of the revolutionaries profoundly influenced society.

It helped to change habits, life styles, governments, religious institutions and even the calendar with notorious and expensive jewels for some time, a reminder of the Ancien Regime. Subsequently they went out of fashion and an enormous amount of royal and noble jewels were sold for survival.

Diamonds Forever

Diamond Parure, courtesy Sotheby’s

‘It was 1793 when the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple tower. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were executed by guillotine in 1793 and their 10-year old son, Louis XVII, died in captivity. The king and queen’s only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse de France (1778-1851),

“Madame Royale”, was released in December 1795, after three years of solitary confinement. After learning of the deaths of her mother and brother, she was sent to Austria. Upon her arrival in Vienna in 1796, she was given her mother’s jewels by her cousin, the emperor.

Having borne no children of her own, Madame Royale bequeathed part of her jewellery collection to her niece and adopted daughter, Louise of France (1819–1864), Duchess of Parma and grand-daughter of Charles X, King of France (1757-1836), who in turn left them to her son, Robert I (1848-1907), last ruling Duke of Parma.

The French are glad to die for love.
They delight in fighting duels.
But I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewels…

Pearls and Diamonds 2

Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace, photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Dramatic stories are still attached to the loss of the exquisite collection French jewels during the Revolutionary period in France. This was recently highlighted in the American all women heist movie Oceans 8, when the girls led by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, rob The Met in New York where an infamous French necklace is one of those on display.

Perhaps the biggest scandal ever over diamonds, happened with the French monarchy when Parisian craftsman Charles Bohmer desired to sell the most opulent piece of diamond jewellery ever made to King Louis XV for his last mistress Mme du Barry.

He collected 647 brilliants weighing 2800 carats and assembled them into a four-tier necklace. The King died before he could conclude the sale and so Monsieur Bohmer then tried to sell it to Queen Marie-Antoinette.

She was not interested and refused. However not to be deterred he tried again through a distant relation of the now Louis XVI, not knowing this particular lady had ongoing issues with the Bourbons.

Hilary Swank wearing 'that necklace' in the movie The

Hilary Swank wearing ‘that necklace’ in the movie The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

Jeanne de la Motte dazzled by the galaxy of diamonds spread before her conceived a plot, which became the most audacious jewel swindle in French history.

It brought undone a great many people, including the King’s Cardinal and damaged the reputation of the monarchy, who became pawns in what is known to history as the ‘affair of the diamond necklace’.

Some of the truths we do know about Marie Antoinette is that she did not ever say ‘let them eat cake’ and I must say today whenever I see references in print it makes my blood boil, as it is a proven fact.

The second is when she wore diamonds it was at important French assemblies, as is expected of a sovereign.

Just look at how the Queen of England decks herself out today in all her diamond glory from the ‘Crown Jewels’ and no one says anything. It is all about proving status and power.


Portrait Marie-Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Marie Antoinette from her late teens loved simplicity and indeed when the lovely Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun painted the portrait she had hung in the French Academy of her friend and patron it caused quite a stir.

She is wearing only muslin and no jewels at all and it insulted all the silk and jewellery houses seeking her patronage.

As her personal maid Madam Campan says in her own memoirs about the Queen ‘… her diamonds never quitted their caskets but for the dresses of ceremony’.

When there was so much rioting and restlessness going on in the capital of Paris in 1791 a year before the revolution, the Queen did pack up her own jewels and sent them to her sister in Brussels from where they were sent on to Vienna into the safe keeping of the Austrian Emperor and her family.

I like to think from all I have read about her character, that was being cautious and circumspect, in case she need to fall back on them to sell and to give her and her children a new life back in Austria the land of her birth.


Recreation of the French Blue diamond in situ in the illustrious French Order of the Golden Fleece

When the mob stormed Versailles, the French Crown Jewels disappeared or were stolen, and it is only in recent years at least the fate of the famous ‘French Blue’ diamond now in the Smithsonian Museum in America, has come to light.

68 Hope-Diamond-in-its-Setting

The Hope Diamond in its setting by Cartier; proven to be originally, the historic French Blue diamond, which was re-cut and sold following the French Revolution courtesy Smithsonian Institute

Follow our link to the story about its re-discovery.

With so many aspiring billionaires in the world today, this glamourous sale at Sotheby’s should be a well-attended record event. As it is so close to the festive season, some lucky ladies may be looking forward to thinking all their Xmases have come at once!

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018

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