Earlier this month, the jewelry world was transfixed by the sale of the collection of Heidi Horten, the Austrian billionaire art collector who amassed an incredible bounty of jewels during her lifetime. Today, thanks to generous reader Thomas, we’ve got a peek inside one of the sale previews held by Christie’s before the auctions.
Born in Vienna in 1941, Heidi Jelinek was working at a law firm when she met Helmut Horten, the German owner of a large chain of department stores, while on a lakeside holiday in Krumpendorf in 1958. She was 17; he was 49. Eight years later, in 1966, they were married. The couple lived a life of immense wealth in Switzerland, sailing on yachts, hunting, donating money to favored causes, and collecting art and jewels. (The brooch she’s wearing in this photograph was purchased from Cartier in 1968.)
Helmut Horten died in 1987, leaving Heidi with a fortune of more than a billion dollars. She married twice more and continued collecting. At various points, she owned both the Wittelsbach Diamond and Marie Antoinette’s Pearl Pendant. (The diamond was later sold, while the pearl pendant remains part of the collection on display at Horten’s museum, the Heidi Horten Collection in Vienna.) Horten passed away in June 2022, and Christie’s was tasked with handling the sale of hundreds of pieces from her dazzling jewelry collection.
The sale was not without controversy. Much of Helmut Horten’s wealth was built in the 1930s, two decades before he met Heidi, by acquiring assets sold by or taken from Jewish department store owners who were desperate to flee Germany. There were calls to stop the Christie’s sale entirely. Max Fawcett, the head of Christie’s jewelry department, stated, “We took on this collection in the understanding that 100% of the final sale proceeds will go to philanthropic causes. We cannot erase history—but hopefully the money from this sale will go to do good in the future.” The proceeds were earmarked to benefit children’s charities and medical research (but also to support Horten’s Vienna museum). Christie’s decided to donate “a significant contribution” from their cut of the sale to programs dedicated to Holocaust research and education.
Ahead of the auctions of the Horten jewels, which were held in Geneva, selected pieces from the sales went on display at Christie’s showrooms in Asia, North America, and Europe. One of our lovely readers, Thomas, viewed the collection at the showroom in Vienna, and he has kindly shared some of his photographs of the jewels with all of us.
Let’s start things off with a display of jewels acquired from Köchert, the Austrian firm that once served as court jeweler to the Habsburgs.
These earrings, purchased from the jewelry firm in 2018, are set with Burmese sapphires, diamonds, and cultured pearls. They sold for 327,600 Swiss francs, or around $360,000 USD.
This lovely bracelet, also from Köchert, features four rows of cultured pearls and white gold clasps set with pear-shaped and round diamonds.
The display also includes a demi-parure of jewels from Köchert. The yellow gold jewels are set with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. This is the necklace from the set.
And here are the coordinating fringe earrings from the suite.
The display also included one more pair of earrings from Köchert. These white gold chandelier earrings, set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, were purchased in 2017. They sold for 252,000 Swiss francs, or approximately $278,000 USD.
Here’s a look at a display featuring sumptuous jewels set with emeralds and white and yellow diamonds.
This necklace, acquired from Bulgari in 2000, features emerald beads, both smooth and carved cabochons, as well as white diamonds set in yellow gold. It sold for a whopping 693,000 Swiss francs, or around $765,000 USD.
A coordinating pair of gold, diamond, and emerald tassel earrings, purchased from Bulgari in the same year, was also auctioned. The earrings sold for 81,900 Swiss francs, or around $90,000 USD (presumably to Queen Máxima of the Netherlands).
The sheer number of sparkling yellow diamonds set in this yellow gold Van Cleef & Arpels bangle bracelet made snapping a clear photograph difficult. The bracelet, acquired in 1990, sold for slightly under its auction estimate, fetching 88,200 Swiss francs, or approximately $97,000 USD.
The display also featured a truly unusual ring. The ring, which has Italian maker’s marks, features a 3-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond set within a rectangular portrait-cut diamond. More yellow diamonds are set in the band of the ring as well.
Here’s another angle that shows the unusual setting of the ring. The piece sold for 126,000 Swiss francs, or about $139,000 USD.
Next is a case with three necklaces and a pair of earrings. First is an absolute classic: a three-row necklace of graduated natural pearls with a clasp set with two old-cut diamonds. (Looks quite a lot like some royal necklaces we’ve discussed recently, doesn’t it?) It was purchased from Köchert in 2021 and later shortened. The piece sold at auction for 151,200 Swiss francs, or around $167,000 USD.
These interesting pearl and diamond earrings were also acquired from Köchert in 2021. The large pear-shaped diamond drops weigh in at a little more than 5 carats each. The earrings sold for 428,400 Swiss francs, or approximately $473,000 USD.
Nearby was this yellow gold Bulgari necklace with a 6.01-carat heart-shaped diamond pendant. It sold for 226,800 Swiss francs, or about $250,000 USD. (Heidi Horton really liked this particular style. She also had a similar necklace with a station-style chain and a diamond heart, a Bulgari necklace with a heart-shaped emerald, a necklace with a heart-shaped sapphire and pink diamond accents, and a necklace with a pink diamond heart pendant, too.)
And then there was this spectacular Bulgari necklace, acquired in 2004, which is set with diamonds and features pendants of tumbled blue, pink, and yellow sapphires. It sold for 176,400 Swiss francs, or about $195,000 USD.
This case features even more jewelry from Bulgari, all set with diamonds and emeralds.
This three-stranded yellow gold necklace of diamonds and heart-shaped emeralds was purchased from Bulgari in 1993. It sold for 138,600 Swiss francs, or around $153,000 USD.
The necklace has a matching pair of earrings featuring more diamonds and emeralds, including additional heart-shaped stones. They fetched 69,300 Swiss francs, or approximately $76,400 USD.
The display also included a pair of Bulgari bangles, purchased in 1999. One of them, pictured above, is set with emeralds and yellow diamonds. It sold for 75,600 Swiss francs, or around $83,400 USD.
The other is set with emeralds and white diamonds. It sold for 88,200 Swiss francs, or about $97,300 USD.
Horten’s collection included lots of pieces of colorful jewels, including these two suites of jewels set with diamonds and semi-precious stones.
These are the “Gina” bangle bracelets from Marina B., a jewelry firm founded by Marina Bulgari in the 1970s. The bracelets, which were acquired in 1987, are set with diamonds, amethysts, citrines, blue topazes, and pink and green tourmalines in yellow gold. They sold for 138,600 Swiss francs, or around $153,000 USD.
These modern girandole earrings, the “Shrine” style from Marina B., are set with diamonds, aquamarines, amethysts, citrines, blue topazes, and pink and green tourmalines. They were purchased in 1986. At auction, they brought 107,100 Swiss francs, or about $118,000.
This suite of jewels, made by Tamara Comolli, is part of the brand’s Mikado Flamenco collection. The set includes a necklace, a pair of earrings, and a bracelet, all made of white gold and set with diamonds and tourmalines. The demi-parure was purchased in 2014-15, and it sold at auction as a set for 138,600 Swiss francs, or about $153,000 USD. (Horten loved this particular collection, too. She also owned similar suites set with tanzanites, amethysts, topazes, and peridots; with cacholongs, turquoises, and carnelians; with diamonds and moonstones; with amethysts, green and orange garnets, peridots, blue topazes, carnelians, yellow beryls, green and pink tourmalines, sapphires, and diamonds; with gold and turquoise; with aquamarines and diamonds; and with prehnites, chalcedony, and blue and pink sapphires.)
Here are more diamonds and emeralds, including several more pieces from Bulgari.
Christie’s dubbed this Bulgari necklace, which is set with pear-shaped diamonds and emeralds, “impressive.” Rightfully so—the largest diamond in the necklace alone is more than 12 carats. Acquired in 2002, the necklace exceeded its estimate, selling for 882,000 Swiss francs, or about $973,000 USD.
The matching Bulgari diamond and emerald bracelet sold for 195,300 Swiss francs, or about $216,000, and the coordinating Bulgari diamond and emerald earrings brought a whopping 214,200 Swiss francs, or around $236,000 USD.
And, of course, no great jewelry collection is complete without a massive (Christie’s says “magnificent”) diamond ring. This one features a 30.52-carat emerald cut diamond flanked by additional baguettes, all set in platinum. The ring was previously sold (presumably to Horten) at Christie’s in 2009 for 3,459,000 Swiss francs (about $3.8 million USD). This time around, it sold for slightly under the estimate, selling for 1,981,000 Swiss francs, or approximately $2.19 million USD.
This display features a suite of gold and diamond jewelry that was acquired in 1984 from Van Cleef & Arpels. The jewels were accompanied in the auction by original drawings from the jewelry house.
The set is part of the firm’s “Barquerolles” line. Here’s a view of the front of the necklace.
And here’s a view of the back of the necklace and the clasp. Christie’s notes that the necklace was extended in 2002. It sold at auction for 138,600 Swiss francs, or around $153,000 USD.
The coordinating gold and diamond fringe earrings exceeded their estimate, selling for 78,120 Swiss francs, or approximately $86,000 USD.
The set also features a pair of matching gold and diamond bracelets, which can also be joined together to make a choker necklace. They sold for 207,900 Swiss francs, or around $229,000 USD.
There were some seriously impressive sapphires on display as well. The ring pictured here is set with a luscious cabochon Sri Lankan sapphire that weighs in at 59.86 carats. It’s flanked with diamonds and set in yellow gold. The ring absolutely demolished its estimate, selling for 1,020,600 Swiss francs, or about $1.1 million USD. The bracelet in the background of the photo is a Bulgari piece, made of yellow gold and set with diamonds, emeralds, and a large cabochon sapphire. The sapphire was originally set in a ring that Horten acquired from Van Cleef & Arpels in 1977, and it was set in this new Bulgari bracelet in 1993. The bracelet sold at auction for 277,200 Swiss francs, or around $306,000 USD.
Bulgari also supplied these coordinating earrings, set with diamonds, emeralds, and cabochon sapphires, to Horten in 1995. They sold for 252,000 Swiss francs, or around $278,000 USD.
And finally, we’ll wrap up our tour of the sale preview with a look at even more diamond and emerald jewels, including a stunning necklace.
The gold and diamond Harry Winston necklace, called “The Great Mogul,” features a nineteenth-century carved emerald pendant. The emerald depicts a scene from the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic poem. (Horten owned other carved gemstones as well, including this one.)
Horten acquired the necklace from Harry Winston in 1972. It sold at auction for an impressive 882,000 Swiss francs, or around $973,000 USD.
The Great Mogul necklace was displayed alongside this diamond and emerald bracelet. Christie’s notes that the bracelet has been “adapted” twice, by Harry Winston in 1984 and then by Bulgari in 2000. (It reminds me a bit of Elizabeth Taylor’s Bulgari emeralds.) The bracelet sold for 403,200 Swiss francs, or approximately $445,000 USD.
And finally, here are a pair of diamond and emerald earrings that coordinate with the bracelet. They were acquired from Harry Winston in 1971 and adapted by the same firm in 1984, and then adapted again by Bulgari in 2000. They sold at auction for 428,400 Swiss francs, or about $473,000 USD.
And that’s just scratching the surface of the jewels from Horten’s collection that were sold recently at Christie’s. You can view all of the lots from the three recent auctions—Magnificent Jewels I, Magnificent Jewels II, and an online sale—at the Christie’s website. And please join me again in thanking Thomas for sharing his photos from the exhibition!