In the spring of 1776 Marie Antoinette chanced upon two diamond bracelets so dazzling and rare, even the Queen of France couldn’t afford it. She borrowed a princely sum from her husband and used gemstones from her collection to pay 250,000 livres for the pair. Recent discoveries by jewelry historian Vincent Meylan show that in February 1777 the personal papers of King Louis XVI stated: ‘to the Queen: down payment of 29,000 livres for the diamond bracelets she bought from Boehmer.’ Soon after, as we all know, things took a turn for the worst for the King and Queen.
In January 1791 Count Mercy-Argenteau, a loyal friend of the family (who had left his post as Ambassador of the Austrian Empire to France in 1790 and taken office in Brussels) received a letter from Queen Marie-Antoinette, then a prisoner in the Tuileries in Paris. She would send him a wooden chest for safekeeping. Mercy-Argenteau stored it unopened for the next couple of years. Inside the chest, amongst other precious possessions and jewels were the diamond bracelets.
Four months after Marie Antoinette was guillotined, in February 1794 Emperor Francis II of Austria (the late queen’s nephew) ordered the chest to be opened in Brussels and an inventory to be made. Amongst its contents that were kept safe and handed over to the Queen’s sole surviving heir, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France, Madame Royale, later Duchess of Angoulême, was Item no. 6: ‘A pair of bracelets where three diamonds, with the biggest set in the middle, form two barrettes; the two barrettes serve as clasps, each comprising four diamonds and 96 collet-set diamonds.’
Madame Royale died childless in October 1851 and in her will bequeathed the entirety of her jewelry collection—including Marie Antoinette’s jewels—to her three nieces and nephews: Count of Chambord (1820-1883), Countess of Chambord (1817-1886), and Duchess of Parma (1819-1864).
Of the pieces that can be traced back to Marie Antoinette, these extraordinary bracelets are the only examples in diamonds that retain the exact design described in the Brussels inventory, with the overall composition and the number of diamonds (except for those on the clasp). Presented in their current form at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels, the bracelets sold on November 9 for $9.353,855 million, far more then their initial $2,000,000-4,000,000 estimate.
From Architectural Digest