There’s no more fascinating subject in history than the doomed French Queen Marie Antoinette. Much maligned by history (she never said “Let them eat cake,” in response to the people’s need for bread), she was an unwilling part of the one of the greatest revolutions in history. And met an untimely end at the guillotine in 1793. While she loved jewelry, and possessed many magnificent jewels, she often preferred simple muslin gowns and very little jewelry. Many of the portraits of her by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun show her dressed just like that.
Two large, pear-shaped diamond earrings, weighing 14.25 and 20.34 carats respectively, are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection. The diamonds once were supposedly set in earrings that belonged to Marie Antoinette and some sources say they were her favorite pieces of jewelry and she wore them constantly. They were taken from her during an attempt to flee France as the Revolution dawned and the position of the Royals became dangerous.
The diamonds were later acquired by the Grand Duchess Tatiana Yousupoff of Russia. When jeweler Pierre Cartier purchased the diamond earrings in 1928, their authenticity was attested to in an affidavit by Russian Princess Zenaide Yousupoff and her son, Prince Felix Yousupoff, stating that they originally belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette and have never been reset in the one hundred years that they were in the family. Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired the earrings from Pierre Cartier in October 1928. Harry Winston reset the large diamonds in platinum replicas of the original silver settings in 1959. Cartier, Inc. designed the triangular tops. In November 1964, Mrs. Post's daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Barzin, donated the earrings, along with the original setting to the Smithsonian Institution. The diamonds are originally from India or Brazil, the only significant sources of diamonds in the eighteenth century.