A simple pearl and diamond pendant that was owned by the famous 18th century French Queen Marie Antoinette before she was beheaded during the French Revolution was put up for auction by Sotheby’s in Geneva and was sold at a ground breaking price of $36 million on Wednesday.

Sotheby’s had held an auction of 10-piece jewellery collection that was owned by the ill-fated French Queen Marie Antoinette. The jewellery pieces belonged to the Bourbon-Parma family, which traces its lineage back to French King Louis XIV and were never seen by anyone for 200 years. And the jewellery belonged to his great, great, great grandson King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette who were beheaded in 1793 during French revolution. Most of the queen’s jewels were used to wield path highlighting European power dynamics in the 18th and 19th centuries after her death, but she managed to smuggle some of them before dying – and the simple pendant was one of them.

The auction was estimated to fetch some $3 million for all pieces, but instead, the combined total of the auction touched a massive $43 million. Among all 10 pieces, the most significant and heavy tagged piece was the pearl and diamond pendant that was sold at a price of $36 million within 14 minutes of being put up for sale. The received price of the oval diamond and drop-shaped pearl was 18 times more than what was estimated, and it is now owned by an anonymous, private buyer, without giving further details. In fact, Sotheby’s said that it was “the most important royal jewellery collections ever to come to auction.”

(Image credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Perhaps, it is the history connected with these royal jewels that brought in the hefty price. Marie Antoinette, an Austrian by birth and a French queen spent lavishly on jewels, even amidst France’s financial crisis. The lavish spending by queen went public and she was jailed and later guillotined in Paris in October 1793 at the age of 37. However, her lady-in-waiting Madame Campan said that before her death, she spent evenings packing her diamonds and pearls in wooden chests, which were sent to Brussels that was ruled by her sister Archduchess Marie-Christine and then to the queen’s native Austria to his nephew who was the emperor then.

After the death sentence of both king and queen, their son died in captivity and the only survivor was their daughter Marie Therese, who received all her mother’s jewels. She had no children so the jewels were passed to her niece and adopted daughter, Louise of France, Duchess of Parma – and then to their son, Robert I (1848-1907), the last ruling Duke of Parma. After the end of the royal lineage on throne, the jewellery has been owned by royal relatives and were never seen in two centuries. This is what the hefty price is for.

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