Estimated at SFr1m-2m, it drew intense bidding before it sold at SFr36.4m (£27.8m), including buyer’s premium, at the auction yesterday.
It sold to a European private buyer and easily surpassed the previous high for a natural pearl – the $11.8m (£7.6m) paid for 16th century pearl belonging to Elizabeth Taylor that sold at Christie’s New York in December 2011.
It was part of a collection of 100 lots of royal jewels that came to auction from the Bourbon-Parma family. Ten of the pieces had once belonged to Marie Antoinette, all of which attracted strong competition at the sale.
The items had survived the French Revolution by being dispatched secretly to Brussels wrapped in cotton and packed in a wooden box. They were then sent to Vienna, into the safekeeping of the emperor, Marie-Antoinette’s nephew.
Overall the collection raised a combined SFr53.5m (£40.8m) with all 100 lots selling.
Sotheby’s jewellery chairman, Europe, Daniela Mascetti said: “Tonight we saw the Marie Antoinette factor work its magic. No other queen is more famous for her love of jewels, and her personal treasures, pearls and diamonds that survived intact the tumults of history, captivated the interest of collectors around the world.”
£1 = SFr1.31