French queen Marie Antoinette was renowned for her sense of style. During her lifetime, she captivated the court with her elaborately adorned hairstyles and lavish gowns; centuries after her death, the monarch’s sartorial choices—including traipsing around a model village on the grounds of Versailles in a milkmaid dress known as a chemise à la reine—continue to inspire new looks.
This November, two accessories from the queen’s much-coveted closet are set to go under the hammer at Christie’s Geneva. As Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports, the pair of three-strand bracelets, set with a total of 112 diamonds, carry an estimate of $2 to $4 million but could fetch a much higher price.
Speaking with AFP, Marie-Cécile Cisamolo, a jewelry specialist at Christie’s, points out that the estimate “includes not only the intrinsic value of the diamonds, but also the possibility to wear jewelry that was once worn by the famous queen.”
Per a statement, Marie Antoinette purchased the bracelets in 1776, paying 250,000 livres for them—“a huge sum at the time.” The French livre was then worth roughly the same as one pound of silver, notes Joseph Golder for Zenger News.
The queen paid for the bracelets with gemstones from her collection and funds supplied by her husband, Louis XVI. In 1791, as the French Revolution threatened to upend the monarchy, Marie Antoinette sent the jewelry—enclosed in a wooden chest—to the former Austrian ambassador to France, Count Mercy-Argenteau, for safekeeping.
Following the queen’s execution in October 1793, Austria’s emperor, Francis II, ordered his servants to create an inventory of the chest’s contents. Item number six, according to Christie’s, was 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.”
Cisamolo tells Town & Country’s Jill Newman that the diamond bracelets “revive and transport a part of French history into today’s world.”
She adds that the pieces are even more valuable because they weren’t altered over time. They appear to be in the same condition as when the queen purchased them.
“We can assume that the simple design spoke to its different owners over the past 226 years,” Cisamolo says.
Born in 1755 in Vienna, Marie Antoinette was only 14 years old when she married Louis, grandson of France’s Louis XV, in May 1770. She courted controversy from the beginning of her reign in 1794, attracting criticism due to her Austrian origins and perceived reputation “as a spendthrift ... indifferent to the plight of the French people,” wrote Nazanin Lankarani for the New York Times in 2019.
By the time French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, Marie Antoinette was one of the most hated figures in the country. Imprisoned at the Tuileries in Paris in 1791, the queen sent her jewels to Brussels, believing that she’d eventually be exonerated and reunited with them, per Town & Country. Instead, she and her husband were condemned to death and beheaded by guillotine.
The couple’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France, also known as “Madame Royale,” survived the revolution, outliving both her parents and her brother, the young Louis XVII. She was released in December 1795 and sent to Austria, where she took possession of her mother’s jewelry. An 1816 portrait of Marie-Thérèse shows the royal wearing a pair of bracelets consistent with the Brussels inventory.
“These jewels can thus be traced all the way back to Marie Antoinette,” Cisamolo tells AFP.