In March of 1791, Queen Marie Antoinette prepared for her escape from France. According to accounts written by her lady in waiting, Madame Campan, the queen spent an entire evening in the Tuileries Palace wrapping her diamonds, rubies and pearls in cotton and secreting them in a wooden chest.
Marie Antoinette wasn’t able to avoid her appointment with Madame La Guillotine, but the wooden chest remained intact. The cache of jewels made its way to Brussels, and then to Vienna, where it reached safety in the hands of the Austrian Emperor, Marie Antoinette’s nephew.
In October of 2018, this cache of royal jewels reached Sotheby’s New York. When they asked me if I wanted to come see the Bourbon Parma collection before it went back to Europe, it was a piece of cake to say oui.
This ring was from Marie Antoinette’s personal collection. It features the doomed Queen’s initials – MA – in diamonds and contains a lock of her hair.
More than one of you messaged me after I posted a video of this ring on my Instastory, asking if I was going to clean my finger with Holy Water or visit an exorcist to make sure that Marie Antoinette wasn’t going to haunt me for trying on her ring, but I absolutely loved getting to handle this piece. Seeing Marie Antoinette’s hair – which is completely encased and did not touch my skin – made me feel the strongest connection to her.
She may be a legendary historical figure but she was also just a woman, like me, who had hair and also fingers. That shouldn’t be such a mind-blowing thought, but it is.
In 1795, Marie Antoinette’s only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse de France (1778-1851), “Madame Royale,” was released and sent to her family in Austria. Upon her arrival in Vienna in 1796, she was given her mother’s jewels by her cousin, the Austrian emperor. Since she never had children of her own, Madame Royale bequeathed part of her jewelry 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), the last ruling Duke of Parma.
This incredible fleur-de-lys tiara was part of the Bourbon Parma jewels. It’s basically a family history in diamonds: made by Hübnerin around 1912 for Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria (1882-1940), the tiara uses diamonds removed from a badge of the Royal Order of the Holy Spirit, a French order of chivalry founded by King Henri III in 1578. The insignia was originally owned by Charles X, Marie Antoinette’s brother-in-law. The empty frame of the Royal Order of the Holy Spirit jewel is also part of the Bourbon Parma jewels auction (see it here).
This exquisite natural pearl and diamond pendant is probably the most iconic jewel in the sale and definitely the most valuable, with an auction estimate of $1-2 million. It was also a personal piece belonging to Marie Antoinette herself, and is emblematic of the doomed Queen’s particular love for pearls and diamonds.
I don’t generally get hot and bothered over pearls, but this one is an exception. Holy moly.
I keep wanting to introduce each piece by saying “this was one of my favorites!!” but really that applies to every piece here. If something wasn’t one of my favorites, I didn’t ask the fine folks at Sotheby’s to take it out of the case.
This one, though. Can you even? It’s a ruby and diamond brooch/HAIR ORNAMENT (capitalized due to extreme awesomeness) that belonged to Archduchess of Austria Maria Anna of Austria, the lucky Bourbon Parma descendant who also wore the fleur de lys tiara. It was made in 1900 by Bachruch and the center stone is a 6.89-carat Burmese ruby. It is heart-stoppingly gorgeous.
I’m not sure that any one of these pieces is quite worth going to the guillotine for, but they’re definitely extraordinary. This eighteenth-century brooch is another one from Marie Antoinette’s collection – at least, the bow component of it definitely is. The yellow diamond is thought to have been added on later.
I usually have to work hard to capture all-diamond pieces, but this brooch was all HELLO HERE I AM, TAKE MY PICTURE. Just look at all those delectable antique facets. Perfection!
Could this antique diamond necklace be any more perfect?
Five of these diamonds belonged to Marie-Antoinette, and many more came from the sword of the Duke of Berry, son of Charles X and father of Louise (assassinated by an anti-royal Bonapartist in 1820).
This extraordinary thing is a badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the most prestigious and exclusive order of chivalry in the world. This Golden Fleece belonged to Louis Antoine of Bourbon, Duke of Angoulême (1775-1844), who married Marie-Antoinette’s daughter, his cousin.
It is believed that Louis Antoine received the Order of the Golden Fleece to honor his participation in the Spanish expedition of 1812, through which his cousin, Ferdinand of Bourbon was restored as absolute king of Spain.
The middle segment of this jewel represents the oriflamme, a traditional French royal symbol, with a sapphire flanked by ruby flames. Beneath hangs a ram in gold and diamonds.
It is spectacular. And HUGE. I love it.
This remarkable collection goes to auction at Sotheby’s Geneva on November 14th, I highly recommend you prepare yourself to bid on these pieces of history if you possibly can. And keep an eye on my IG for videos!
Thanks again to Sotheby’s for inviting me to view this remarkable collection and for being so lovely while I was in town! Now, to end, here’s
Here’s a gallery of Bourbon Parma jewels images from Sotheby’s! It includes pictures of some of the auction lots I didn’t show you and additional pictures of some of the ones I did show you. I figure we all want to see as many pictures of these as possible.
All of the Bourbon Parma history in this post is c/o Sotheby’s experts, as are the photos in the gallery at the end.