A necklace of diamonds and pearls owned by Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, is expected to fetch up to UKP400,000 at auction.

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The exquisite piece which features the royal jewels once belonging to the 18th century monarch will go under the hammer at London auction house Christie’s next month.

The queen gave the natural grey pearls and diamonds to her friend Lady Elizabeth, the Duchess of Sutherland, to take back with her to Britain for safe keeping during the French Revolution in 1792.

A year later Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine for treason.

Raymond Sancroft-Baker, senior director of Christie’s jewellery: “When you are in a dire situation, there are not many people you can trust and the key was to give the jewels to someone with diplomatic immunity.”

Sancroft-Baker added the queen would not have known her fate when she handed her friend the bag of jewels and would have hoped to be reunited with them.

The Sutherland family used the diamonds to make the necklace, which also boasts a number of rubies. The pearls were added to the piece in 1849 to mark the marriage of the duchess’ grandson.

Marie Antoinete was famed for her extravagant lifestyle and love of expensive jewellery and clothes.

Her excessive spending while her country was in the grips of a depression led to the civil uprising which resulted in the overthrowing of the monarchy.

The necklace will be sold as part of the Magnificent Jewellery sale on 12 December.