Nearly $196-million jewellery auctions in Geneva set world record

The first one totaled 138.3 million Swiss francs ($154 million), already setting a world record for a single-owner jewelry sale


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Despite vigorous criticism about the Nazi-era origins of Heidi Horten’s wealth, an auction of the late Austrian billionaire’s jewellry became the most expensive public sale in history. 
Spread over the course of two live auctions in Geneva on May 10 and 12 (a third online auction ends on May 15), a treasure trove of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and tiaras carried a presale estimate of $150 million. The first one totaled 138.3 million Swiss francs ($154 million), already setting a world record for a single-owner jewelry sale. The second, which contained fewer big-ticket lots, brought in 37.8 million francs, pushing the running total to 176 million francs as of Friday afternoon.

(The previous record was set in 2011, when a series of auctions of the late actress Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels made about $137 million at Christie’s.)

Nazi history
Horten died last year at the age of 81, shortly after opening an eponymous museum in Vienna. She derived her wealth from her late husband, Helmut, who made his fortune in part by buying department stores at deeply discounted prices from Jews who sold under duress during the Third Reich.
“This auction is doubly indecent: the funds that made it possible to acquire these jewels are partly the result of the Aryanization of Jewish property carried out by Nazi Germany,” Yonathan Arfi, the chairman of Crif (the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), wrote in a statement posted on the organization’s website. “In addition, this sale will contribute to a foundation whose mission it is to ensure the name of a former Nazi for posterity!” Christie’s, for its part, acknowledges the origins of Horten’s wealth. 
Much of the jewelry itself is spectacular. About half of the lots on the sale’s first day sold for more than $1 million each.

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First Published: May 14 2023 | 10:11 PM IST

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