Diamonds Fit for a Queen: The Jewels of Marie Antoinette
Pomp and extravagance, political dissent, and undeniable terror – these might be good words to describe the period of the French Revolution. Calm and self-assured, outspoken, yet highly fashionable might be a few adequate adjectives to describe Marie Antoinette, who was indisputably one of the most fascinating figures during this period. She ruled as Queen of France from 1774 to 1792, when she was ultimately and quite unfortunately beheaded during the Reign of Terror.
But not just a political figure of the time, Antoinette was also a fashion plate, literally changing fashion as Europe had previously known it. One of the ways she did this was by wearing some of the most beautiful and extravagant jewels in the world.
Antoinette’s taste in jewelry was much different than that of those who came before her. Her gemstone jewelry was very ornate. One of the most notorious pieces of jewelry that she wore was an incredibly elaborate necklace known as the De Beers Marie Antoinette Necklace. Set in platinum, this not-so-little beauty weighs in at 181.1 carats, and features a lovely assortment of diamonds that include a sparkling white pear-shaped diamond weighing 8.05 carats as the main pendant. It also features two gorgeous yellow diamonds and one rare pink diamond totaling 14.11 carats by themselves. This necklace is, to this day one of the most valuable pieces of jewelry in the world.
Another example of Antoinette’s divine taste in jewelry is in a gorgeous pair of diamond earrings that once wore. They weigh somewhere between 13 and 19 carats. The settings actually throw off the weight. Their history is as rich as Antoinette’s. The earrings were given to her as a token of love by her husband Louis XVI when they first got married. Throughout history, they passed through the hands of a few others, and when they ultimately landed into the hands of Eleanor Close Barzin, she offered them to the Smithsonian Institute. They have remained there since 1964.
Another fine example of Antoinette’s taste could clearly be seen in the Hope Diamond, also known as “Le Bijou du Roi” or the King’s Jewel, and “Le bleu de France” or the Blue of France. It was turned over along with all the French Royal Treasury jewels in 1791 when Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI tried to flee France. It was stolen during a looting of the crown jewels in 1792 and eventually rediscovered. Like her earrings, its journey through several different owners ultimately ended at the Smithsonian.
Marie Antoinette made her mark in the world on many different levels. Yet her life story and legacy live on today through tales of her reign – and as some of the world’s most amazingly beautiful and let’s face it, expensive pieces of jewelry continue to fill in some of the gaps. Who knows, if you visit the Smithsonian and look closely enough, perhaps you may even be able to catch a glimpse of Marie dancing in the ballroom of the Versailles with Le Bijou du Roi dangling from her neck.