Knowledge Centre > Jewellery History > History

The Affair of the Diamond Necklace

A Royal scandal

front view georigan rose cut diamond ring berganza hatton garden
Georgian rose cut diamond ring, circa 1820.
Ref: 26518

A Royal scandal took the court of King Louis XVI of France by surprise in 1785, when his wife Queen Marie Antoinette was thought to have been involved with the purchase of an extremely extravagant diamond necklace. The reputation of the Queen was already tarnished by malicious gossip and took a devastating turn for the worst when she was implicated in the crime to defraud the crown jewellers of the diamond necklace.

Created by the Parisian crown jewellers Boehmer and Bassange, the ornate design consisted of draping tassels, festoons and pendants all imagined in extremely large old mine diamonds. Truly a work of art the piece was originally commissioned by Louis XV of France for his alleged mistress, Madame du Barry at an astonishing cost of 2,000,000 livres (the equivalent of over 11 million pounds today). The necklace was to surpass all others in grandeur and took several years to source the requisite matching diamonds. When Louis XV died of smallpox and his mistress was banished from court, in vain the jewellers tried to sell the necklace to the new King Louis XVI as a present for Queen Marie Antoinette, however they were refused. Fearing they were about to go out of business they enlisted the help of Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Remy, who boasted about her friendship with the new Queen, to persuade the Queen to purchase the necklace.

Unfortunately, Valois-Saint-Remy was actually a confidence trickster named Jeanne de la Motte who had gained access to the court through her relationship with a previous lover. She then became the mistress of the Cardinal de Rohan, a former French ambassador to the court of Vienna. The Cardinal was trying to regain the favour of the Queen, so when Jeanne informed him that the Queen wished to purchase the necklace but couldn’t be seen to do so publicly in a time of need, he agreed to act as a secret intermediary.

The Cardinal thought he was corresponding with the Queen, when in actual fact it was de Motte, arranging the purchase of the necklace in instalments and delivery to his house. Jeanne de la Motte then arranged for the necklace to be spirited away to London and be broken up to sell the diamonds individually. When the time came for payment and nothing was forthcoming, the jewellers complained to the Queen who informed them she had neither ordered nor received the necklace. The theft was discovered and a sensational trial followed that enraged the public and lead to the demise of the French Royal Family.

Though Queen Marie Antoinette was found to be guiltless, the scandal led to a huge decline in the Queen’s popularity and confirmed the belief of many people in France that she was a decadent spendthrift and that the monarchy were morally corrupt, more interested in frivolity than the welfare of the French people. The incident was historically significant as one of the events leading to the population of France becoming disillusioned with the monarchy and eventually leading to the French Revolution.

Captivated by 18th century scandal? Shop Berganza’s collection of 18th century jewels and discover unique pieces glittering with intrigue.

Post medieval sapphire fleur de lis ring, circa 16th century. Hatton Garden
Post medieval sapphire fleur-de-lis ring, circa 16th century.
Ref: 26446
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Updated 30/05/2024 at 2:02PM

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