Auction: record-breaking jewels from billionaire Heidi Horten

Despite the sulphurous origins of the fortune of her late husband, Helmut Horten, who benefited from the spoliation of Jewish property in 1933, the dispersal of the collection of his widow, Heidi, also deceased, has exceeded all expectations. Part of the 203 million dollars (188 million euros) will be donated to organizations dedicated to the Holocaust.


Money has no smell…and neither do jewels for some.


The sale of the largest and most valuable private collection of jewels ever put up for auction, on May 10 and 12 in Geneva, almost benefited from a story-telling worthy of Disney.


The story of a beautiful 19-year-old Austrian innocent named Heidi Jelinek, with whom Helmut Horten, a German billionaire 32 years his senior, falls in love.


The rest is the same: they marry in 1966, and in the absence of children, together they collect many works of art, and much jewelry for the adored wife, for whom nothing is very beautiful.


The husband died in 1987, before his wife, and she continued to buy jewels like no one before or since… In all, hundreds of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and brooches from the most famous jewellery houses (Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels) joined her coffers.


700 pieces to be auctioned


After his death in 2022, the executors of his will entrusted the collection to Christie’s, who auctioned 700 pieces in Geneva on May 10 and May 12.


On the first day, while Christie’s was expecting “only” $150 million (€139 million), the sale in situ reached $155 million (€144 million). And on the second day, with the online sale, the total exceeded 203 million dollars (188 million euros).


This is a record that dethrones the two previous ones, namely the sale of Hollywood star Elisabeth Taylor’s collection in 2011 and the so-called “sale of the century” of India’s greatest royal families, the Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence in 2019. The former fetched $115.9 million (€107 million) and the latter $109 million (€101 million).


Initially, the entire proceeds of the Heidi Horten sale, whose “charitable dimension was an essential element“, were to go, as Christie’s stated at the beginning of May, “to a foundation that supports philanthropic causes, including medical research, children’s welfare and access to the arts, in accordance with Mrs. Horten’s wishes”.


Heidi’s first husband, Helmut Horten, was no ordinary man.


A fortune off to a bad start


Before the auction, a New York Times investigation recalls the sad genesis of the fortune. Helmut Horten started out at the age of 24, in 1933, benefiting from the high-pressure sale of business assets by German Jewish families. After escaping prosecution in the post-war period, he regained his virginity as the eponymous builder of Horten, Germany’s fourth-largest department store chain.


These revelations caused a stir, with some calling for the charity auction to benefit organizations dedicated to Holocaust education and research.


Under pressure, Christie’s finally announced on its website prior to the auction that it would be followed by a “significant” donation to these organizations.


On May 8, Anthea Peers, President of Christie’s EMEA, had stressed that “Christie’s decision to take on the sale of the jewels from the estate of Heidi Horten was taken after careful consideration”.


Thorough verification


We knew the history of Helmut Horten’s actions during the Nazi period, when he bought Jewish businesses that were sold under duress,” had detailed the head of the auction house. His activities were well documented and formed the basis of his subsequent wealth. However, without ignoring or excusing Mr. Horten’s actions, the jewelry collection of his wife, Heidi Horten, was assembled decades later, between the early 1970s and 2022, the year of her death.”


As with all items entrusted to Christie’s, this collection has undergone a thorough verification process,” added Anthea Peers. The provenance of each of the 700 objects up for auction is well documented, with detailed purchase indications, and none of these jewels comes from spoliation or forced sale to a Jewish owner.”


Exceptional jewels


Among the jewels that went to new owners were the “Bulgari Laguna Blue”, a blue stone that fetched 22.6 million Swiss francs (23.1 million euros), and the tiara, an Art Deco masterpiece worn by George VI and Elizabeth II at their coronations, which sold for a more modest 945,000 francs (867,000 euros).


Another marvel from the collection, considered one of Bulgari’s five largest, is a spectacular necklace of diamonds, sapphires and emeralds in saturated colors, set at its center with a 46.56-carat round brilliant-cut diamond.


Another undisputed star, signed Cartier for its part, the most valuable according to experts, the 25.59-carat ‘Sunrise Ruby’. This ruby is “one of the most sought-after in the world”, according to Christie’s, due to its “highly sought-after, extremely clear, saturated pigeon’s blood red color”.


Adorned with equally impressive emeralds and diamonds, a large Mughal necklace also caught the eye: a 362.45-carat carved emerald, dating from the 19th century and depicting a scene from the Indian epic poem Ramayana, was set by Harry Winston.


However, the Wittelsbach blue diamond, from the Bavarian crown, given as a wedding gift by Helmut to Heidi, did not feature in the sale. After her husband’s death, Heidi had already sold it in London in 2008 for 16.5 million pounds (19.24 million euros).


For those who missed the first episode, there’s more to come from this Netflix soap opera. Christie’s has announced that a new sale of Horten jewelry will take place online in November 2023.




Featured photo : © Press

Grâce à une veille accrue et à une excellente connaissance de ces secteurs, la rédaction de Luxus Magazin décrypte pour ses lecteurs les principaux enjeux économiques et technologiques de la mode, l’horlogerie, la joaillerie, la gastronomie, les parfums et cosmétiques, l’hôtellerie, et l’immobilier de prestige.


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