Jewels (Literally) Fit for a Queen

You don’t have to tell us that jewelry is important, but it’s rare to encounter pieces that are helped-start-a-revolution important. Last week, for that very reason, the Gray & Davis team joined the many New Yorkers flocking to the Sotheby’s showroom to see jewels once belonging to Marie Antoinette. Although the “Royal Jewels of the Bourbon Parma Family” auction is in Geneva on November 12th, Sotheby’s took the unusual step of sending the pieces on an extensive international viewing tour to give the public the once in a lifetime chance to get up close and personal with history. And, reader, it was pretty magical.

 Some of the “Royal Jewels” on display at Sotheby’s New York showroom.

Some of the “Royal Jewels” on display at Sotheby’s New York showroom.

The extreme rarity of Marie Antoinette jewelry might seem a little paradoxical, considering her enduring association with opulence, and the fact that her profligate personal spending was a major factor in the lead up to the French Revolution. As extensive as her collection was, however, most of it was lost during the conflict, and much of what survived was broken up and cannot be traced.

What is perhaps the most famous single piece of jewelry associated with Marie Antoinette, and certainly the most consequential, not only no longer exists but was never actually in her possession: the titular piece from the notorious “Affair of the Necklace,” which cemented her bad reputation. Her husband’s predecessor, Louis XV, had originally commissioned it for his famous last mistress Madame du Barry; he died before its completion, Louis XVI ascended the throne, and new queen Marie Antoinette refused to buy the massive necklace (28,000 carats of diamonds!). But in 1785, it was procured in her name, without her knowledge, by con artists who promptly disappeared with the loot. When the jewelers contacted the confused queen for payment, the ruse was revealed. Many falsely blamed Marie Antoinette of trying to defraud the treasury and, even though the perpetrators were eventually tried and found guilty, the story aligned with the unpopular queen’s notorious excess and it stuck. Many historians point to this scandal as a turning point for the angry French populace on the road to anti-monarchical violence.

 The Necklace, by Parisian jewelers Charles Auguste Boehmer and Paul Bassange.

The Necklace, by Parisian jewelers Charles Auguste Boehmer and Paul Bassange.

Despite the queen’s innocence in that particular case, of course, her overall reputation was most certainly earned. The queen loved luxury, gambling, and, most famously, fashion; she spent enormously, even as her people faced serious economic hardship. The jewelry showcased at Sotheby’s is incredibly impressive, and would have been incredibly expensive. Pearls, for example, were unfathomably rare and precious at the time; in the pre-culture era, qualities like size and similarity for matching could only be found, not created. The auction pieces include a necklace made with 331 pearls and pendant featuring a pearl so large it really must be seen to be believed.

And yet, financial judgment issues aside, Marie Antoinette wasn’t the historical villain she is sometimes made out to be. She was vivacious and free-spirited, sent to a foreign country at age fifteen to marry someone she’d never met, and only eighteen when she ascended the throne. The Sotheby’s jewels tell a story of a desperate woman trying to provision for her family’s future in a time of fear and instability. We only have them today because, as the Revolution was kicking into gear, the Queen packed them up and sent them through family to her native Austria, where her nephew was emperor and where the royal family planned to escape. While Marie Antoinette was instead imprisoned and ultimately executed in 1793, her daughter was eventually released and made her way to Vienna, where she was reunited with her mother’s jewels. She left them to relatives in the House of Parma, and they have remained in the family ever since. Now they’re about to change hands for the first time, and perhaps disappear again from public view. But, in the meantime, they’ve given us new proof of the iconic French queen’s extravagance, taste, and enduring icon status.

 Marie Antoinette, painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Marie Antoinette, painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

SJP Golden Globes

Every once in a while, a girl has to indulge herself.
— Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
Image Source: Getty / Venturelli

We adore Sarah Jessica Parker because she taught us not only about shoes but also the importance of friendship, true love and yes fashion.  She is a….wait no, let’s re-phrase- she is the style icon of this century and we were totally flattered when she wore a Gray & Davis piece to the Golden Globes. 

Retro diamond ring glittering with old mine cut diamonds in platinum and 18k yellow gold. These diamonds likely lived in a brooch before they were re-imagined as part of this incredible ring. The four center diamonds in a north-south arrangement are 0.57ct, H/VS2; 1.04ct, J/VS2; 0.72ct, J/SI2; and 0.56ct, I/SI1. The additional 26 old mine cut diamonds have an approximate carat weight of 3.52ctw, bringing the total carat weight of this spectacular ring to 6.41ctw. All stones are set in platinum. This stunning ring was made c.1940.

The Karowe Diamond: Second-largest diamond found to date

The second-largest diamond ever mined was recently discovered at Lucara Diamond Corps.' Karowe Mine in Botswana. It weighs 1,111 carats, or approximately half a pound (!).

 Lucara Diamond Corp.'s 1,111 carat rough diamond, found in the Karowe Mine in Botswana.

Lucara Diamond Corp.'s 1,111 carat rough diamond, found in the Karowe Mine in Botswana.

While this is quite a respectable carat weight, it's still only a fraction of the size of the current world's-largest-diamond champion, the Cullinan diamond, which was unearthed in 1905 and weighed a whopping 3,106 carats before being broken apart and made into a whole bunch of the British crown jewels. 

 A very happy man holding the Cullinan rough c. 1905.

A very happy man holding the Cullinan rough c. 1905.

It will be exciting to see what Lucara decides to do with their new fabulous find, which is expected to fetch between $40 and $60 million dollars. 

Brooches Are Back?

Our favorite new freebie paper, Trending NY, just jumped on the “brooches are back” bandwagon. 

Will this trend finally come true?? We certainly hope so. So many wonderful brooches, pins and dress clips exist in the vintage market, just waiting to become the finishing touch on everything from a winter jacket to a wedding dress.

Brooches were incredibly popular during the Art Deco era, and Sotheby’s New York has some stunning pieces at this month’s Important Jewels sale. This impressive Cartier jewel has definitely caught our eye:

 Platinum, diamond, rock crystal and onyx brooch.  Cartier, France. Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. 

Platinum, diamond, rock crystal and onyx brooch.  Cartier, France. Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. 

Of course, we have a few great Art Deco examples in our own collection as well:

Crafted in elegant geometric patterns in glittering gems and precious metals, our Deco brooches are anything but old-fashioned. What a fun new (old) trend!