Lareef A. Samad B.Sc. (Hons)
The name refers to a magnificent single-strand pearl necklace, with a great historic significance, composed of forty four graduated pearls, that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, the queen consort of King Louis XVI, the monarch of France, who together with his wife were guillotined to death during the tumultuous days of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1793. The necklace eventually came into the possession of Barbara Hutton, the granddaughter of Woolworth department store magnate, who was the heiress to an immense fortune left behind by her grandparents and mother, and became one of the richest women in the world. Barbara Hutton is reported to have worn the pearl necklace on the occasion of her wedding to her first husband, the Russian Prince Alexis Mdivani in 1933. A great collector and connoisseur of jewelry, Barbara Hutton had over the years acquired a magnificent collection of jewels and jewelry, that included elaborate historic pieces that had once belonged to reputed historical figures like Marie Antoinette and Empress Eugenie of France.
The magnificent necklace is composed of 44 graduated natural pearls, varying in size from about 8.7 mm to 16.3 mm, and having a total weight of 1,816.68 grains. The pearls are white and nacreous, having perfectly spherical shapes, and a brilliant luster and orient characteristic of natural saltwater pearls. The two largest pearls in the necklace, that form the centerpiece, occupy the 22nd and 23rd position from one end of the necklace. The size of the pearls decrease gradually from these central pearls, towards both ends, pearls of identical size occupying symmetrical positions. The clasp of the pearl seems to be occupied by a rectangular-shaped, cabochon-cut turquoise, surrounded by a single row of 16 small diamonds.
Barbara Hutton Pearl Necklace
The Clasp of the Barbara Hutton Pearl Necklace
The single strand pearl necklace was reported to have been owned by Marie Antoinette, Princess of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, and later, after her husband King Louis XVI ascended the throne of France in 1774, the Queen of France. Marie Antoinette is believed to have inherited the necklace from Anne of Austria (1601-1666), wife and queen consort of King Louis XIII (1601 -1643), King of France and Navarre. On the death of her husband, Anne of Austria was the regent to her son, Louis XIV, who succeeded her husband. Her regency lasted from 1643 to 1651, during which period Cardinal Mazarin served as France's chief minister. From Anne of Austria, the pearl necklace would have been inherited by her daughter-in-law, Maria Theresa of Spain (1638-1683), wife and queen consort of King Louis XIV (1638-1715). The necklace would then have passed down to the queen consort of Louis XV (1710-1774) Maria Leszczynska (1703-1768) of Poland, from whom it was inherited by Marie Antoinette, the wife and queen consort of Louis XVI (1754-1793). Thus the Marie Antoinette pearl necklace had remained as part of the crown jewels of France since the tenure of Anne of Austria as the Queen of France from 1615 to 1643, or the time of her regency from 1643 to 1651.
Anne of Austria, Queen consort to Louis XIII of France
Marie Antoinette, Queen consort of Louis XVI
The necklace being of 17th century origin, the possible sources of the pearls are the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka, the traditional source of natural pearls, and the hub of the pearl industry since very ancient times. Apart from these ancient sources, countries in the New World, like Venezuela, Colombia and Panama also became suppliers of pearls to the world pearl markets, after the discovery of pearls in Venezuela by Christopher Columbus in 1498, during his 3rd voyage. However, by the mid-17th century, just 150 years after the discovery of pearls in the New World, all pearl resources were totally exhausted due to intensive harvesting by the Spanish colonizers. Yet, the pearls of the Marie Antoinette pearl necklace could still have come from sources in the New World, as the necklace is of mid-17th century origin, around the time pearls were becoming scarce in the region. After the depletion of the pearl oyster resources of the New World, the Asian region once again regained its pre-eminence as the primary source of natural pearls in the world.
There were several ways in which the Marie Antoinette Pearl Necklace would have reached the United States from Europe and eventually purchased by Barbara Hutton, millionaire heiress of the successful Woolworth department stores chain.
One possible way was that Marie Antoinette herself would have given the necklace to a close friend or relative either as a gift or for safe keeping prior to her incarceration with her family on August 13. 1792. The necklace would have remained with the families of the friend or relative, until the tumultuous days of the revolution was over and normalcy returned to France, and was eventually taken out of France and sold in one of the other jewelry markets of Europe, such as London, Amsterdam, Geneva etc. from where it eventually reached the United States.
A second possible way the necklace would have left France, was during the height of the revolution, when thieves that included notorious criminals like Guillot and Depeyron, in connivance with some of the commissioners of the Garde Meuble (public treasury) that housed the crown jewels of France, broke into its buildings on September 16, 1792, and stole valuable items of jewels and jewelry, contained in eleven sealed cabinets in the treasury. The items included some of the most renowned diamonds such as the French Blue diamond (Hope diamond), the Regent diamond, the Sancy diamond, and the Hortensia diamond. The Marie Antoinette pearl necklace was also possibly among the haul. Guillot escaped to London with part of the haul where he disposed of some of the jewels, and eventually ended up in prison. Some of the diamonds, which included the Regent and the Hortensia were recovered from an attic in a house in Paris, after information provided by Depeyron just before his execution.
The third possible way in which the necklace left France, was that it remained safe in the Garde Meuble during the revolution, and was later inherited by Napoleon I (1804-14), the self proclaimed emperor of France, and after his downfall by Louis XVIII (1814-24) and Charles X (1824-30) of the restored Bourbon monarchy, by Louis Philippe (1830-48) of the lesser branch of the Bourbons, and finally by Napoleon III (1948-71), the last emperor or monarch of France, before the declaration of the 3rd Republic in 1871, in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous Franco-German war of 1870/71. After the display of the French crown jewels at the 1878 International Paris Exhibition, and later at the Louvre Museum in 1884, the National Assembly of the third republic decided to get rid of all decadent royal symbols, including the French crown jewels, in order to forestall any future attempt by a monarch or a despot to restore the old order, inspired by these decadent symbols of royal authority. Accordingly President Francois Paul Jules Grevy, the first president of the 3rd republic, ordered the sale of the French crown jewels by public auction, between May12-27, 1887, except for pieces that might have cultural or historic value. An auction catalogue was prepared by the Administration of State Properties and circulated around the jewelry capitals of the world. It was possible that the Marie Antoinette pearl necklace was one of the items listed in the catalogue.
The auction was held on the appointed dates and drew international attention, and was attended by jewelry firms of repute like Tiffany's of New York, Van Cleef & Arpels, Paul Bapst, Frederic Boucheron of Paris, and a host of other jewelers from other European countries. Tiffany's of New York was the most successful bidder at the auctions, purchasing 24 of the 69 lots that was put up for sale. The total proceeds from the sale to the state coffers was around 6 million gold francs. Tiffany's of New York, being the successful bidder at the auctions, most of the crown jewels of France eventually ended up in the collections of Natural History Museums across the United States or in the collections of wealthy private individuals. It is not known whether the Marie Antoinette pearl necklace was also one such piece that passed through Tiffany's. It was also possible that the piece was not purchased by Tiffany's, but by some other European jeweler, but later ended up in one of the famous jewelry houses of the United States, patronized by celebrities and the wealthy like Barbara Hutton. The only drawback in this line of thinking of how the Marie Antoinette pearl necklace would have reached the United States, is how the necklace would have escaped the attention of Empress Eugenie de Montijo, who was a connoisseur and collector of jewels, and would have undoubtedly recast the pearls in this simple necklace, in a more elaborate setting, as she did with most other pearl jewelry, and other types of jewelry in the collection.
Barbara Hutton was the only heiress to an immense fortune left behind by her mother Edna Woolworth (1883-1918), and her grandfather Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the successful chain of Woolworth department stores. She inherited around $50 million from her mothers estate on her 21st birthday in 1933, making her one of the richest women in the world. It was in the same year that she got married to her first husband Alexis Mdivani, a Georgian prince. It was in anticipation of this wedding she purchased the historic Marie Antoinette pearl necklace from Cartier's of New York, which she wore for the occasion, together with a tortoise shell tiara studded with diamonds, bearing the Cartier signature.
In spite of being one of the richest women in the world, Barbara Hutton was never able to find much-needed solace and happiness in her personal life, that led to her marrying seven times during her lifetime, and earning the nickname "poor little rich girl" after a song composed by Noel Howard that alluded to her life. She also developed a passion for acquiring sumptuous jewelry during her life time that included famous jewelry with a historic provenance once owned by Queens and Empresses such as Catherine the Great, Empress Eugenie and Marie Antoinette.
Among the other famous pieces of jewelry owned by Barbara Hutton were the following :-
1) Catherine the Great's emerald necklace - The most important historical necklace owned by Barbara Hutton, that later came into the possession of Edith Rockefeller McCormick. Barbara Hutton purchased the Romanov emeralds, also known as the Vladimir emeralds, from Cartier around 1935. She is reported to have given the emerald necklace to her seventh husband, Prince Pierre Raymond Doan, whom she married in 1964, and the necklace was probably disposed by him after their separation. These emeralds were also used by Barbara Hutton set on a tiara designed by Lucien Lachassagne and made by Cartier in 1947. A photograph of this tiara appears in Geoffrey Munn's book, "Tiaras, A History of Splendor."
Barbara Hutton at a Masked Ball in Paris 1958, wearing the Catherine the Great Emerald Necklace
2) Queen Amelie of Portugal's ruby necklace - Barbara Hutton can be seen wearing this magnificent ruby necklace in one of her best known portraits taken by photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, in which she appears wearing an Indian sari. At times she wore the same ruby necklace transformed into a tiara, as she was seen wearing sometimes at her parties in Sidi Hosni, her residence at Tangiers in Morocco.
Barbara Hutton wearing the Queen Amelie of Portugal Ruby Necklace
3) A double-stranded pearl necklace composed of large golden yellow cultured pearls, which she purchased in Japan in 1959.
Barbara Hutton wearing the queen Amelie of Portugal Ruby Necklace converted to a tiara and the double-stranded golden yellow Japanese Pearl Necklace
4) A jade necklace that came to be known as the "Mdivani Necklace" that was sold by Christie's in Hong Kong in 1992.
5) The Pasha diamond - A 55-carat white brilliant-cut diamond, that once belonged to Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt. she set the diamond in a ring.
Barbara Hutton wearing the Romanov Tiara and Pasha Diamond Ring
In May 1992, the Barbara Hutton/Marie Antoinette pearl necklace came up for public auction for the first time, at Christie's auction house in Geneva. The identity of the seller and buyer of the necklace were withheld. The pre-sale estimate placed on the necklace by the auction house was $250,000 to $350,000. However, the price of $580,000 realized at the auctions for the necklace far exceeded the expectations of the seller as well as the auction house, and demonstrated an upward demand for genuine natural pearls of ancient historic provenance, in a world dominated by cultured pearls of multiple varieties and origins.
In November 1999, the single-strand Barbara Hutton/Marie Antoinette pearl necklace came up for auction again at a Christie's sale in Geneva. The identity of the owner of the necklace was not revealed. The auction house placed a pre-sale estimate of $970,000 to $1,200,000 for the historic necklace. The auction was conducted by Rahul Kadakia of Christie's, the experienced jewelry auctioneer, who holds the hammer for all major sales in Geneva, Hong Kong, London and New York, and was held on November 16, 1999. After a competitive bidding process the hammer was brought down in favor of an anonymous buyer at $1.47 million, far in excess of the pre-sale estimate, and a world record price for a natural pearl necklace, ever realized at an auction.
The Barbara Hutton/Marie Antoinette Pearl Neklace that sold for US$ 580,000 at a Christie's auction in Geneva, in May 1992, fetched an enhanced price of US$ 1.47 million, when the same necklace appeared at another Christie's auction in Geneva, 7 years later, in November 1999. This was a world record price for a natural pearl necklace, ever realized at an auction, that was broken only five years later in November 2004. The strong appreciation of the value of the Barbara Hutton/Marie Antoinette pearl necklace in 1999, which was more than double its value in 1992, shows the strong auction market for natural pearls, that was building up towards the end of the 20th-century, and continued into the early 21-st century, despite the economic recession of 2008. It was at the height of the economic recession that the Umm Kulthum pearl necklace sold for US$ 1.39 million and the Pearl Carpet of Baroda sold for US$ 5.5 million. The trend continued into the year 2011, when the La Peregrina, that was part of the estate of the Queen of Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor, sold for a staggering US$ 11 million, at a Christie's auction in New York, in December 2011. The table below shows the increase in trend for auction prices for natural pearls during the period 1970 to 2011.
Table of some famous natural pearls/pearl jewelry sold at public auctions conducted by international auction houses, giving the date of auction and the prices realized, during the period 1970 to 2011
|S/N||Name of pearl/pearl jewelry||Probable period of origin||
|date of auction||Price realized|
|1||La Peregrina||1513||203.84 grains||
USD 37,000 USD 11,000,000
|2||Mancini pearls||1500-1600||400 grains||Oct.1979||USD 253,000|
|3||Mona Bismarck 2-strand pearl necklace||1920-1930||Double-strand of 70 pearls||May 1986||USD 410,000|
|4||Duchess of Windsor pearl necklace||1910-1936||Single-strand of 28 natural pearls. Total weight 1266.33 grains||April 1987
|5||Empress Eugenie tiara||1853||212 pearls, 2,520 grains||Nov 1992||USD 650,000|
|6||Nina Dyer black pearl necklace||1950s||151 natural black pearls||Nov 1997||USD 913,320|
|7||Barbara Hutton pearls||1600-1666||44 natural pearls, total weight of 1,816.68 grains||May 1992
|8||Unidentified natural pearl necklace by Cartier||Historical provenance not revealed||Double-strand necklace with 88 natural pearls||Nov 2004||USD 3,100,000|
|9||La Regente||1811||302.68 grains||Nov 2005||USD 2,483,968|
|10||Gulf pearl parure designed by Harry Winston||1932-1978||Nov 2006||USD 4,100,000|
|11||Baroda pearl necklace||1856-1870||Double-strand with 68 natural pearls from the original 7-strand necklace||April 2007||USD 7,096,000|
|12||Umm Kulthum pearl necklace||1880||nine-stranded necklace with 1,888 pearls||April 2008||USD 1,390,000|
|13||Pearl necklace from an unidentified notable collection||Historical provenance not revealed||Single-strand necklace with 41 natural pearls||Nov 2008||USD 1,321,110|
|14||Unidentified pearl and diamond festoon necklace||Historical provenance not revealed||Nine-strand pearl and diamond festoon necklace. Length 645mm to 1060mm||Nov 2008||USD 946,610|
|15||Pearl Carpet of Baroda||1860||1.5-2.0 million natural seed pearls||March 2009||USD 5,500,000|
Please do not copy our tables without our permission. We may be compelled to inform the search engines if our content and tables are plagiarised.
On November 18, 2004, another natural pearl necklace of unknown provenance, consisting of two strands came up for auctions at Christie's, Geneva. The double-strand pearl necklace contained 88 natural pearls ranging in size from 8.5 mm to 16.3 mm, and was strung with a diamond clasp, with the engraving "Mtd. Cartier" meaning mounted by Cartier. The auction house did not release any additional information on the history and origin of the necklace. But, prospective bidders who inspected the necklace before the auctions were convinced of its ancient and historic provenance, based on the characteristics of similar pearl necklaces of known historic provenance. The auctioneer for the sale was Francois Curiel, director of Christie's International Jewelry Department. As expected the bidding was competitive, and later Francois Curiel himself said, " I have not felt such an atmosphere in the room for many years" referring to the keen bidding for the necklace. The hammer was brought down in favor of an anonymous buyer at the staggering price of $3.1 million, which was more than double the previous world record price for a natural pearl necklace, the Barbara Hutton/Marie Antoinette pearl necklace that sold for $1.47 million in 1999.
The world record of price of US$ 3.1 million held by the double-strand pearl necklace of unknown provenance which was sold at a Christie's auction in Geneva on November 18, 2004, was again broken in April 2007, at a Christie's auction in New York, when the two-strand Baroda pearl necklace, consisting of 68 natural oriental pearls varying in size from 9.47-16.04 mm, was sold for world record price of $7.1 million, the highest ever realized by a natural pearl necklace at an auction.
The pre-sale estimate placed on the necklace by Christie's was US $7 million to $9.0 million. Thus the sale price realized was in keeping with the pre-sale estimate, set by the auction house, which was well aware of the demand for natural pearls, that were now very scarce, and whose value was enhanced by their historic provenance.
In a news article published in the "New Scotsman, on May 16, 2002, the imminent sale of a collection of jewelry that once belonged to Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress was announced. The sale was to take place on June 14, 2002, as part of a Bonhams' sale of fine silver and jewelry, at its George Street showrooms. According to Bonhams' researcher Patricia Hess, the collection of jewelry were being sold by the Edinburgh-based niece of a former governess who, was under the employment of Mrs. Hutton, and looked after her only child and son Lance, who was born to her second husband Count Curt Haugwitz-Reventlow. It was reported that the jewels were actually a gift by Barbara Hutton to the governess in recognition of her loyal services to her. The governess was full of praise for Barbara Hutton for her kindness and generosity and held her in great esteem during her life time. The auction lot included a Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire and diamond ear clips, a single strand pearl necklace with a 1.5-carat diamond clasp, and a green jade Jabot Pin and pearl necklace worth a combined £6,000. The auction was expected to realize around £12,000.
Born on November 14, 1912 in New York City, Barbara Hutton was the only child of Edna Woolworth, the daughter of Woolworth department store magnate, Frank W. Woolworth, and her husband Franklyn Laws Hutton, a co-founder of E. F. Hutton & Co. a renowned New York based investment banking and stock brokerage firm. Edward Francis Hutton, her uncle was at one time, married to the cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, and thus Barbara Hutton was a niece to the cereal heiress by marriage. Young Barbara lost the love and affection of her parents at the tender age of six, when her mother committed suicide, possibly precipitated by the philandering habits of her husband. Moreover it was young Barbara who discovered the body of her mother, a tragic event that must have had a devastating effect on the child for the rest of her life. Abandoned by her father, the young Barbara was shunted between relatives who took care of her for short periods of time, until she was finally raised by a governess. These tumultuous events in her early life, had a serious psychological impact on the child, becoming an introvert with limited interaction with other children, and with a strong preference to remain isolated. This behavior lasted for the rest of her life, and possibly explains her difficulty in building up a close relationship with anyone of many husbands she took during her life time. This also explains her purchase of a mansion in faraway Tangiers, in Morocco, known as Sidi Hosni, where she preferred to live away from the hustle and bustle of busy city life.
Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth Heiress
As a young elite woman making her first appearance in society, Barbara Hutton was given a lavish debutante ball on her 18th birthday, attended by guests of other elite families of New York, such as the Rockefeller and Astor families. She was also introduced to King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace. In 1933, when she attained 21 years of age, she inherited $50 million from her mother's estate, which made her one of the wealthiest women in the world. In the same year she contracted her first marriage to the Georgian Prince Alexis Mdivani, and it was in anticipation of this marriage that she purchased the Marie Antoinette pearl necklace from Cartier's of New York, the subject of this webpage. Unfortunately her first marriage ended in divorce two years later in 1935, and subsequently she contracted six more marriages during her life time, and all of them were to either Princes, Counts or Barons, except for her third husband Cary Grant, a popular Hollywood star. All her marriages were short lived lasting from a minimum of one year to a maximum of four years. Three of her ex-husbands subsequently died in automobile accidents.
Her only marriage that produced an issue, a son named Lance, was the second one to the Danish Count Curt Haugwitz-Reventlow, but unfortunately Reventlow subjected her to verbal and physical abuse, that led to savage beating, leaving her hospitalized and him in jail. The undue pressure exerted on her by Reventlow, was to give up her American citizenship and instead take Danish citizenship, in order to avoid paying taxes. The marriage eventually ended up in divorce in 1938, and Barbara had the custody of her son, whom she entrusted to a governess to look after. The child later had his education in private boarding schools.
As World War II broke out in 1939, she moved to California, where she played an active role in the war effort, by donating her yacht to the Royal Navy, by donating money to help the Free French Forces and using her high profile image to sell war bonds. It was during this period that she met the popular Hollywood movie star Cary Grant, who fell in love with her and married her, out of a genuine desire to care for her. Grant had the money and the popularity and never intended to benefit from this marriage. Yet, this marriage too failed.
Cary Grant - Publicity still from the 1941 film Suspicion
Hutton acquired several mansions around the world including Sidi Hosni in Tangiers, Morocco and a Japanese-style palace she built in Mexico, on a 30-acre estate. She spent a lot of time in Tangiers, where she met her 7th and last husband Raymond Doan, which also was short-lived from 1964 to 1966. For a photograph of Villa Sidi Hosni please click the following link.
In 1972, the death of her only son Lance, in an aircraft crash, drove her into a state of despair, and her drinking habits worsened. Her limitless generosity and reckless spending over the years, had by now diminished her enormous fortune, and she began to liquidate her assets in order to raise funds to live. She lived at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California, where she spent her final years and died from a heart attack in May 1979, aged 66. She was buried in the Woolworth family mausoleum, in the Bronx, New York.
Woolworth Family Mausoleum, Bronx, New York
You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)
1) Natural Pearl Necklace Sets Record - Morgan Beard, Editor-in-Chied, Colored Stone. www.colored-stone.com
2) The Big Optimistic - JCK Jewelers Circular Keystone, 10-01-2005.
3) Anne of Austria - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
4) Louis XIV of France - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
5) Louis XV of France - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
6) Louis XVI of France - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
7)The Eyes Have It - 16th May, 2002, news article from the New Scotsman
8) Barbara Hutton - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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