A large, drop-shaped natural pearl pendant has sold for a record $US32 million ($44 million) at an auction of jewellery that once belonged to French Queen Marie Antoinette.
Sotheby’s auction house says the sale marked the highest price ever for a pearl sold at auction.
The Queen Marie Antoinette’s Pearl, a diamond-and-pearl pendant, was among the highlight offerings on the block at the Sotheby’s sale of jewellery from the Bourbon-Parma dynasty.
Like many of the 10 former Marie Antoinette pieces up for sale on Thursday morning (Australian time), the pendant obliterated the pre-auction prediction of US$1 million to US$2 million.
The total price to the new owner is expected to rise with the inclusion of the “buyer’s premium” and other fees.
Sotheby’s billed the sale as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to scoop up heirlooms and jewels that have been held in the Bourbon-Parma dynasty for generations.
Some of the Marie Antoinette jewellery on the block hadn’t been seen in public for 200 years.
The diamond and pearl jewellery that went under the hammer epitomised the aloof, pre-Revolutionary opulence of French royals brought down by the historic uprising.
Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI, was executed in France’s revolutionary fervour in 1793.
Before falling to the guillotine, she had secretly smuggled abroad some of her most treasured possessions to her relatives, amid swelling revolutionary fervour that ultimately marked the beginning of the end of France’s centuries-old monarchy.
“The Marie Antoinette pendant is simply irreplaceable,” Eddie LeVian, CEO of jewellers Le Vian, said before the sale.
“This is about far more than the gems themselves: Marie Antoinette’s jewellery is inextricably linked to the cause of the French Revolution.”
The queen’s jewellery also included a set of pearl and diamond earrings, a diamond brooch, and a natural pearl and diamond necklace.
A monogrammed, diamond-set ring in the sale bore a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair.