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The Duel: The Notorious B.I.G’s Crown vs. Marie Antoinette’s Bracelets

How do the king and queen's heirlooms compare?

Robb Report's The Duel

Royal jewels almost always make a big splash at auction. The crown that the Notorious B.I.G. wore in his famous King of New York photograph sold for nearly $600,000 last year, while a pair of Marie Antoinette’s diamond bracelets sold just this week for 8.1 million. Similarly jaw-dropping figures, but the baubles—and the people who owned them—are truly one-of-a-kind. So how do the king’s and queen’s heirlooms compare?

The Notorious B.I.G’s Crown

Marie Antoinette’s Bracelets

CAPTURED BY

Barron Claiborne, who photographed Biggie wearing the crown for Rap Pages magazine in 1997. The image has since been referred to as the Mona Lisa of hip-hop.

Robb Report's The Duel

B.I.G’s Plastic Crown sold by Sotheby’s.  Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

CAPTURED BY

Antoine Jean-Gros, who painted a portrait of Marie Thérèse, Antoinette’s daughter, wearing the bracelets in 1816. He’s best known for a painting of Napoleon visiting bubonic plague victims in Jaffa.

Robb Report's The Duel

Marie Antoinette’s diamond bracelets.  Christie's

PURCHASED FOR

$6

PURCHASED FOR

250,000 livres, although the queen didn’t have that much in cash at the time. She made a down payment of 29,000 livres and traded in some other gems instead.

Robb Report's The Duel

French livres.  Supplied

MADE OF

Plastic. (It was a prop for a prop for a photoshoot, after all.)

Robb Report's The Duel

Notorious B.I.G wearing the crown for a photoshoot.  Supplied

MADE OF

112 diamonds ranging from 1 to 4.5 carats, all set in gold and silver.

WHERE HAS IT BEEN ALL THIS TIME?

Collecting dust in Claiborne’s studio.

WHERE HAS IT BEEN ALL THIS TIME?

In the same wooden box that the queen sent to an Austrian ambassador when she was imprisoned in Paris during the revolution. She was beheaded shortly thereafter, so the bracelets may be cursed.

BOUGHT FROM

M. Gordon Novelties, a since-shuttered NYC Halloween store where, according to the old signage, you could buy party hats, lanterns, wigs and bingo supplies.

BOUGHT FROM

Boehmer et Bassenge, which also made a scandalous necklace that helped spark the French Revolution.

LOOKS LIKE

The Burger King. The photo shoot was almost a no-go because Sean Combs, the owner of the record label that Biggie was signed with, expressed concerns that the crown would make the rapper look like the fast-food mascot.

Robb Report's The Duel

Burger King’s mascot.  Richard Drew/Associated Press

LOOKS LIKE

Contemporary tennis bracelets. (The pair may have even inspired the style.)

ALSO IN THEIR COLLECTION

Rolexes. Tupac reportedly gave Biggie his first one.

ALSO IN THEIR COLLECTION

More jewelry. The queen had an insatiable appetite for it, and the pieces still appeal to collectors today: Her pearl-and-diamond necklace sold for a whopping $36.1 million in 2018.

Robb Report's The Duel

Marie Antoinette’s diamond and pearl necklace  Frank Augstein/Associated Press

SUBSEQUENT OWNERS

The crown (or a facsimile) recently resurfaced in a photograph of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 9-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy. She’s wearing it while drinking out of her first Grammy.

Robb Report's The Duel

Blue Ivy in the crown.  Supplied

SUBSEQUENT OWNERS
The bracelets stayed in the family for a few years, but they were given to auction house Christie’s by an anonymous royal.

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