Marie Antoinette’s Diamonds Are Hitting the Auction Block

A 1788 portrait of Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.
A 1788 portrait of Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. / Imagno/Getty Images

In 1777, Benjamin Franklin and his cohorts were hard at work in France trying to convince King Louis XVI’s government to help the very recently established United States of America fight for independence from Britain. France finally did—a decision that would contribute to the nation’s impending debt crisis and end up indirectly stoking the French Revolution.

Amid all that, Louis XVI was busy keeping up with Marie Antoinette's penchant for extravagance. In February 1777, he forked over a small fortune so the queen could pay the bill on some jewelry she’d purchased the year before. “To the Queen: down payment of 29,000 livres for the diamond bracelets she bought from Boehmer,” read a personal note unearthed by jewelry historian Vincent Meylan, according to a Christie’s press release. The full price came out to 250,000 livres, paid in part with other jewels owned by Marie Antoinette.

The two bracelets, comprising 112 diamonds in total, were precious enough that the queen included them in a chest of valuables that she sent away from the Tuileries Palace during her imprisonment there in 1791. The recipient was Count Mercy-Argenteau, the Austrian Empire’s former ambassador to France, and he kept the box sealed until several months after Marie Antoinette’s death by guillotine in 1793. The diamond bracelets were then passed down to the murdered monarch's daughter Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France (or “Madame Royale”) when she got to Austria in 1796 after being exiled from France. Two decades later, Antoine-Jean Gros painted a portrait of Madame Royale in which she appears to be flaunting the jewels.

And for a few million dollars, you could flaunt them next. As France 24 reports, Christie’s will auction off both bracelets in Geneva, Switzerland, on November 9. The pair is currently owned by “a European royal family” and could go for somewhere between $2 and $4 million—which accounts for the value of the gemstones themselves and the fact that they used to dangle from the wrists of France’s most famous (or infamous) queen.

[h/t France 24]