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Long hidden, Marie Antoinette’s jewels go up for auction

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GENEVA — Diamond and pearl earrings, pearl necklaces, a giant pearl pendant and other jewelry once belonging to ill-fated French queen Marie Antoinette are set to go on auction in Geneva, showcasing perhaps the quintessential emblems of pre-Revolutionary royal opulence in France.

Sotheby's is billing the sale Wednesday as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to scoop up heirlooms and jewels that have been held in the Bourbon-Parma dynasty for generations, some of which haven't been seen publicly for 200 years — until now.

Marie Antoinette, who was guillotined in 1793 at age 37, had secretly smuggled abroad some of her most treasured possessions to her relatives, amid swelling revolutionary fervor that ultimately marked the beginning of the end of France's centuries-old monarchy.

Perhaps the highlight piece is "Queen Marie Antoinette's Pearl," a diamond-and-pearl pendant estimated to fetch $1 million-$2 million — maybe more. It features a drop-shaped, 2.58-cm (about 1-inch) natural pearl that outsizes the Peregrina that was once in Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor's collection.

"The Marie Antoinette pendant is simply irreplaceable," said Eddie LeVian, CEO of jewelers Le Vian. "This is about far more than the gems themselves: Marie Antoinette's jewelry is inextricably linked to the cause of the French Revolution."

The queen's jewelry is split across several lots, also including a set of pearl and diamond earrings, a diamond brooch, and a natural pearl and diamond necklace. A monogrammed, diamond-set ring bears a lock of Marie Antoinette's hair.

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