In July 2018, the auction house Sotheby’s struck a blow by announcing the sale of the Bourbon-Parme Family jewellery collection. And more specifically, the sale of jewellery that belonged to one of the most famous French queens: Marie-Antoinette. The woman who did not understand her people very well and liked brioche more than bread was nevertheless careful enough to keep her jewels safe when the political situation in France deteriorated. With the hope, surely, that her coins would help the Dauphin and secure his future. Little did she know that neither she, nor her husband King Louis XVI, nor her son would survive the French Revolution and never see the advent of the 19th century. While the end of the royal family was terrible, we are left with the historical pieces that will be sold in Geneva on 14 November 2018.
Lot 25: Order of St James of the Sword in the form of a silver and ruby Santiago Cross. Unsigned but in a case by Moritz Hübner of Vienna. Jewellery of the Parma Family in primogeniture according to a note of 1910. Estimated at CHF 10,000 to 15,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
But this is not the Bourbon-Parma family’s first time. Last May, they sold the famous “Farnese Blue” diamond for $6.7 million and it was already making the headlines in the specialist press. I had the privilege to see it, to handle it to realize the beauty of the material and also to speak with Daniela Mascetti; an interview that you could read a little while ago on the site.
Lot 47: gold, silver and diamond earrings dating from the first half of the 19th century. Provenance Maria Theresa of Savoy, Duchess of Parma, wife of Duke Charles II of Parma and bequeathed by her to her grandson Robert I Duke of Parma. Recorded in the inventory of Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, Princess Elie of Bourbon-Parma. In a Froment-Meurice box. Estimate between CHF 150,000 and 250,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
This collection, incredible in many ways, is a concentrate of the history of European royalty and brings together a considerable number of crowned heads. While discovering my selection from the 100 lots that are on offer to buyers, it is necessary to do a little history to put this family back into the European political landscape.
Lot 69: Gold, silver, diamond and yellow sapphire brooch, 11.99 carats. Provenance Marie-Anne of Austria (1882-1940), Princess of Bourbon-Parme. It was given to her by her mother, Princess Isabelle de Croÿ, Archduchess Frederick of Austria, on the occasion of her 70th birthday in 1926. Estimated at CHF 40,000 to 65,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
1- History of the Bourbon-Parma Family
The Duchy of Parma was created in 1545 by Emperor Charles V for Peter Louis Farnese, the natural son of Pope Paul III. Until 1731, the duchy remained in direct line of descent through male births in the family. At that time, the duchy passed to Elisabeth Farnese, who in 1714 married King Philip V of Spain (grandson of Louis XIV). It was to this same Elisabeth that the Farnese Blue was offered by the Philippines. Its previous owner – the Count of Villafranca – was the great grandfather of her husband, King Philip V.
Lot 80: Silver, gold, diamond and ruby hair ornament, 6.89 carats, certified Burmese and not SSEF treated. Circa 1900 in a Bachruch case. This jewel was given by Archduke Frederick of Austria to his daughter, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, Princess Elisabeth of Bourbon-Parma, on the birth of her son – Charles – in 1905. Estimated at CHF 200,000 to 300,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
Their son – Charles – should have become King of the Two Sicilies but he lost the Duchy of Parma to Emperor Francis I. It was not until 1748 that Charles’ brother Philip regained full rights to the Duchy. In 1739, he married Madame Henriette, the daughter of Louis XV, and in 1749 he initiated the birth of the Bourbon-Parma house and line.
Lot 88: Gold, silver and diamond tiara from Hübner in 1912. The diamonds in this jewel come from a plaque of the Order of the Holy Spirit which belonged to the French King Charles X and was sold under number 85 in the same catalogue. There is a photograph of Marie-Anne de Bourbon-Parme wearing this tiara in 1913. Estimate between CHF 350,000 and 550,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
In 1849, a French princess became Duchess of Parma. Louise d’Artois, future wife of Duke Charles III, inherited a third of her aunt’s jewellery collection in 1851: Marie-Thérèse de France, Duchess of Angoulème, known as “Madame Royale” and daughter of Marie-Antoinette. The rest of the collection went to the Count and Countess of Chambord. Thus began the Bourbon-Parme collection, which was enriched during the late 19th and 20th centuries by successive wedding baskets. The only current descendants are those from the marriage of Prince Elie de Bourbon-Parme to Marie-Anne de Habsbourg-Lorraine.
Lot 90: Gold and silver Order of the Golden Fleece, diamonds, rubies and an untreated Sri Lankan sapphire centre of 8.90 carats certified by the SSEF. Made around 1820, it came from Louis-Antoine de Bourbon, Duc d’Angoulême and Comte de Marnes (1775-1844), the youngest son of Charles X who was also Grand Admiral of France between 1814 and 1830. Estimated at CHF 300,000 to 400,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
“My cassette containing my diamonds and pearls and jewels and the case of those contained therein and those deposited in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna…will be handed over to my executors immediately after my death. My diamonds and pearls will be divided in 3 between my nephews Henri, Louise and Marie-Thérèse”
Maria Theresa of France*****
2- The collection: rare historical pieces
The collection offered at Sotheby’s includes decorations such as the Order of Saint Louis, the Order of Saint George, the Order of the Royal House of Romania, the Order of the Golden Fleece and the Order of Saint James. These various decorations bear witness to the family’s military interests but also to its involvement in the political and public life of the countries in which it was present. Also on offer are jewels from the caissette of Marie-Anne of Austria and Hungary, that of Charles-Louis Ferdinand d’Artois, that of Louis-Antoine de Bourbon and, of course, the collection of Marie-Antoinette.
Lot 95: A second half 18th century diamond brooch. From Queen Marie Antoinette, listed in the inventory of Marie-Anne de Bourbon-Parme. Estimated at CHF 50,000 to 80,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
“Her Majesty had settled down with me in a mezzanine cabinet overlooking the Tuileries garden, and we packed in a small case all that she possessed in diamonds, rubies and pearls”Mme Campan in her memoirs
In 1791, the jewels of the woman who died less than two years later left France for Belgium and more precisely Brussels where her sister the Archduchess Marie-Christine was Governor. Then the jewels went to Vienna thanks to the Count of Mercy Argenteau and finally to Madame Royale who inherited them on her release from the Tour du Temple in 1795.
“You will receive, Mr Count, a cassette from me towards the end of the month. I would ask you to keep it for me, and, if you leave Brussels, you will give it to my sister for meMarie-Antoinette
Lot 100: Important gold and silver pendant, diamonds and exceptional fine pearl dating from the 18th century. From Marie-Antoinette, it is listed in the Marie-Anne de Bourbon-Parme inventory. There is a painting by Prosper Raffi in 1849 of the Duchess of Parma and her children in which she is wearing this jewel. This painting is kept at the Domaine de Chambord. Queen Marie-Antoinette wore this jewel as part of a large pearl necklace (lot 97). Estimated at CHF 1 to 2 million. Photo: Sotheby’s
It is therefore essential – if you can – to make the trip to Geneva to admire this breathtaking collection, which will be dispersed shortly and whose final prices should be close to the highest records one could hope for. It is to be hoped that a French museum will be on the bidding list for this historic sale. But the drastic cuts to the Culture Department do not leave much hope. We can only hope that these jewels will find buyers who will love and respect them for what they carry with them. And perhaps share them with the general public through a major exhibition.