Marie Antoinette's Natural Pearls Broke Records

Queen Marie Antoinette's pearl pendantSotheby's

Queen Marie Antoinette's pearl pendantSotheby's

This natural pearl broke records yesterday by selling for over $36 Million.

Nice to see natural pearls, provenance or not, selling for good prices.

Natural pearls were harvested by pearl hunters who would manually gather oysters or mussels from the ocean floor or lake or river bottom. The oysters were brought to the surface, opened, and searched for pearls. This was a dangerous, difficult and wasteful task as hundreds (perhaps thousands) of shells would have to be open to find a single pearl. For more valuable natural saltwater pearls, free divers often descended in ocean depths of more than 100 feet on a single breath, exposing them to dangers, such as drowning, shallow water blackouts and predators.

“At that time there were only natural pearls, there was no such thing as a cultured pearl and they have always been the absolute ultimate mark of wealth and privilege. In that time they were certainly more valuable than diamonds. While diamonds were considered beautiful and important, they just weren’t as revered as the natural pearl,” said Frank Everett, Sotheby’s Senior VP of Jewelry.

This leads us to a single pearl that is the top lot of the Sotheby’s Geneva November 14 sale of the “Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family.” The baroque drop shaped natural saltwater pearl measures approximately 15.90 x 18.35 x 25.85mm. It is set as a pendant with an oval diamond supporting a diamond bow motif. The pearl and diamond bow motif were originally suspended from a three-strand pearl necklace with the single stone oval diamond surmount forming the clasp of that same necklace.

Most importantly, the pearl belonged to Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). Its estimate is $1 million - $2 million. A large price indeed but expect the sale of this rare jewel to go higher as the estimate is based on the pearl’s intrinsic value and not its special royal provenance.

It’s one of 10 jewels belonging to the last queen of France that is appearing in the 100-lot sale of royal jewels from the Bourbon-Parma family, one of Europe’s most connected royal families.

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