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Marie Antoinette’s Pearl Pendant Sold at Auction for a Record-Breaking $32 Million

Marie Antoinette could’ve fed the people of Revolution-era France a lot of cake with all the money her jewelry earned at an auction this week. According to Sotheby’s, which hosted the auction at its Geneva outpost on Wednesday, the 10 pieces owned by the former French queen that were included in the collection sold for a collective $42.7 million. “Tonight we saw the Marie Antoinette factor work its magic. No other queen is more famous for her love of jewels, and her personal treasures, pearls and diamonds that survived intact the tumults of history, captivated the interest of collectors around the world,” Daniela Mascetti, the European jewelry chairman for Sotheby’s, said in a statement.

One royal piece in particular drove the bulk of those profits: a diamond and natural pearl pendant that was estimated in pre-bidding to earn $1 million to $2 million but actually garnered a whopping $36,165,090. With that massive take, “Queen Marie Antoinette’s Pearl” set a new auction record for a natural pearl. The pendant features a large teardrop pearl that dangles from an oval-shaped diamond by a string of smaller diamonds arranged in a dramatic bow. Per Sotheby’s, the piece was originally connected to a three-strand pearl necklace owned by the queen (which was also up for auction on Wednesday), with the largest stone separated from the rest of the pendant and serving as the necklace’s clasp.

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The 10 pieces included in the auction—part of a larger collection of items owned by the Bourbon-Parma family—found their way there by a somewhat circuitous route, according to the auction house. Before Marie Antoinette and her family were imprisoned by their subjects during the French Revolution, she loaded a trunk with her finest pearls, diamonds, and rubies and shipped them to Brussels, after which they were sent to her nephew, the emperor of Austria, in Vienna. Once Marie Antoinette’s daughter was released from captivity, she regained ownership of her then-beheaded mother’s jewelry before passing the pieces on to the Bourbon-Parma family, who reportedly count among their family tree Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperors, and Pope Paul III.

Besides the pendant, other belongings of Marie Antoinette on the auction block included a diamond ring engraved with her initials and containing a lock of her hair, a stunning yellow diamond dangling off a diamond brooch, and a set of pearl and diamond earrings.

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Overall, the one hundred items in the Bourbon-Parma auction raked in a total of $53.1 million. Not only is that total more than seven times higher than the pre-bidding estimates, it’s also nearly $3 million more than the previous auction record for a collection of royal jewels. That record was formerly held by the jewels of the Duchess and Duke of Windsor—Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne to be with her—which took in $50.3 million in 1987.

Related: A Rare Glimpse at the Prized Pearls and Jewels That Once Adorned Marie Antoinette’s Head