Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793) was the last Queen of France and became famous for her lavish lifestyle and eventual beheading. Born in Austria, Marie was the 15th child of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Marie Thérèse. At 14, Marie married the future King of France, Louis XVI; the union secured diplomatic relations between Austria and France. The couple had four children, only one, Marie Thérèse, would survive to adulthood.
Marie was very popular in France, but rumors spread of her extravagance and the public became disenchanted with her. The French Revolution broke out in October 1789 and soon after, the family was placed under house arrest.
In 1791, Marie Antoinette, fearful that her finest jewels would be taken from her, packed them in a wooden chest to be sent out of France. She gave the chest to Count Mercy-Argenteau, the former Ambassador to Austria. He had a friend store them in Brussels, hopeful that Marie would retrieve her possessions one day.
On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was executed for high treason. Marie’s trial began on October 14, and two days later, she was found guilty of numerous crimes and publicly guillotined; she was just 37.
Several months after her death, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II ordered the chest opened and found it filled with Marie Antoinette’s valuable processions. All the contents were sent to Austria and held for Marie’s only heir, Marie Thérèse. Two of her diamond bracelets were among the contents, each containing three strands of diamonds with an approximate weight of 140 – 150 carats.
For over 200 years, the bracelets remained in Marie Thérèse family’s possession. According to historians, she spent 250,000 livres on the bracelets, which would be close to $4.6M today. The bracelets were just auctioned in Switzerland and received what I thought was a modest estimate of $2-4M. The hammer came down at $6.8M ($8.2M w/p). It’s a solid price, but I think Marie would lose her head over their modest appreciation during the past two centuries!