8 JUNE 2007

Auction bidders will have a chance to take home a piece of royal history next week when personal belongings of Italy's last queen go under the hammer in London. Items, which include jewellery, paintings and furniture once owned by the late Queen Marie Jose, are being sold by her daughter Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy. The princess will use the profits from the sale to pay a tax bill and maintain the family home in Geneva.

Top lot in the auction is a diamond tiara made by Faberge in 1895, which is valued at between £390,000 and £600,000, but is expected to fetch up to three times that amount. It contains rare tear-drop diamonds given by Tsar Alexander to the Empress Josephine.

Belgian-born Queen Marie's wedding gift from her parents - a matching diamond-and-turquoise bracelet, earrings and brooch set - is also among the 41 pieces on offer at Christie's on June 13.

Sixty-seven-year-old Princess Maria Gabriella inherited the jewels - and other items, including bed linen and musical instruments - from her mother, who reigned for only 35 days in 1946 prior to the abolishion of the monarchy.

The princess said in an interview this week that in accepting the precious collection – something which her three siblings had declined to do – she also became liable for a bill of over a million euros in inheritance tax. "I decided to shoulder the honours and the burden," said Princess Maria, who plans to keep only a few things from the collection, including books from the library of the Royal Palace of Racconigi, and a desk that belonged to her mother.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
A diamond-studded Faberge tiara is the centrepiece of the collection, which goes under the hammer at London auction house Christie's next weekPhoto: © Getty ImagesClick on photos for gallery
Photo: © Alphapress.com
The precious items belonged to the late Queen Marie Jose of Italy, who reigned for only 35 days, before the Italian monarchy was abolished in 1946Photo: © Getty Images
Photo: © Alphapress.com
Among the 41 pieces of jewellery being auctioned is this emerald and diamond necklace, made by Van Cleef and ArpelsPhoto: © Getty Images
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