|The necklace from the suite of jewels (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)|
We’ve already covered two of the most spectacular jewels that will be sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva this month: Catherine the Great’s Bow Necklace and the Sky Blue Diamond Ring. Today, we’re looking at a third lot from the sale, an unusual, impressive suite of jewels with roots in the Ottoman Empire.
Here’s how the auction house’s lot notes describe the pieces being sold: “a necklace composed of a series of graduated clusters set with cushion-shaped diamonds of various tints, within frames of similarly shaped and rose near-colourless stones, alternating with foliate motifs, the front decorated with two pear-shaped diamonds of yellow tint within a surround of cushion-shaped stones, and a detachable line of cushion-shaped diamonds and foliate motifs, the central fancy brown-yellow diamond supporting a pendant set with a modified heart brilliant-cut fancy grey diamond, further accented with cushion-shaped and rose diamonds, length approximately 270mm, central cluster and clasp detachable, one small diamond deficient; a pair of earrings, later post fittings; and a brooch.”
|Photo: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Sotheby’s|
The pieces are not only unusual for their varied colored diamonds; they also have royal provenance. They were made in the 1870s for Emine Hanim, the wife of Khedive Teufik of Egypt. The pieces were a gift to the Khediva in honor of the birth of her son, Abbas II. (He later succeeded his father as khedive — and famously gave a very familiar tiara to a royal princess.) The man who gave the pieces to the Khediva was one of the most powerful men in that part of the world: Abdul Hamid II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire. The Khediva ended up exercising some power of her own: after her son’s accession in 1892, she was given the title of Valida Pasha and became one of her son’s most important political advisors.
|Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images|
But the diamonds set in these pieces may have an even longer history. According to tradition, they were given by Empress Catherine I to Sultan Ahmed III during the negotiations to end an eighteenth-century war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia.
|Photo: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Sotheby’s|
The Valida Pasha died in 1931, and her son was deposed in 1944, but the family managed to hang on to this unusual suite of jewels until 1963. That year, they were sold at Christie’s, with the Russian provenance related clearly in the sale catalogue. They have remained in a private collection in Europe since then, but on November 16, they will be sold again at Sotheby’s. This time around, the auction estimate for the suite has been set at approximately $3-5 million.
Abdul Hamid’s  remarkable collection of jewels, which will be sold at auction, beginning Monday, is on exhibition this afternoon in the Galerie Georges Petit for the benefit of a privileged few.
The sale, which has been entrusted by the Young Turk Government to the Paris jeweler Robert Lingeler, has attracted the attention of amateurs and dealers all over the world. The principal American, English, and German firms have sent special representatives to attend it.
Abdul Hamid II in Constantinople, ca. 1901
The experts who viewed the collection this afternoon unanimously agree that several million dollars will be realized, but none of them is ready to give an approximate estimate, as there is a general belief that amateurs and souvenir hunters are likely to compete with professionals and send prices up beyond the intrinsic value of the jewels. The sale coming at this moment, when Turkey is in the throes of war, it was thought that the Turkish government intended to employ the proceeds toward keeping up its army. It is, however, officially stated that the money will be invested in new battleships and the general improvement of the navy.
The exhibition room afforded a wonderful spectacle, ablaze with lights reflected by the wealth of diamonds and precious stones of all kinds arranged in show cases of plain pane glass. Each case was guarded by armed policemen, while other policemen in plain clothes and detectives circulated among the crowd. Although the ensemble of the 419 lots described in the catalogue might appear extravagant to modern taste owing to a touch of Oriental gaudiness, there are some fine pieces, such as only refined artists could conceive or execute.
|One of the emeralds sold in the auction, today called the “Hooker Emerald” (source) |
Most remarkable for workmanship and beauty is the collection of so-called zarfs, or coffee-cup stands, made of brilliants and rubies mounted on invisible settings . There is, too, a Cardinal-shaped tiara finished with osprey plumes with small diamonds at the points, from which hang thirteen large pear-shaped diamonds of the first water. The collection of emeralds is most gorgeous . Some are as large as walnuts and a few of them are of perfect color. There is a profusion of magnificent pearls, perfect in shape and some matchless in their wonderful hues.
Among the ex-Sultan’s personal valuables, such as studs, cigarette cases, canes, etc., many articles quite modern may be observed, and even some that, in America or Europe, would not be considered in bad taste. The sale may extend for days.
1. Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918) was the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire; he was deposed in 1909 in the wake of the Young Turk Revolution. He was an autocratic, absolute ruler; his reign saw modernization in his country, but he was also complicit in the persecution of some of his own people. Just before he was deposed, Abdul Hamid sent the crown jewels to Paris, hoping that he could sell them to raise funds for his life in exile. But the agent he trusted to oversee the sale apparently funneled the payments to the Young Turks, and Abdul Hamid never saw any of the proceeds from the auction.
2. One of these zarfs was resold by Bonhams in 2004; here’s more information, including an image.
3. One of these emeralds was the Hooker Emerald, purchased at the sale by Tiffany and Co. and on display today in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Read more at the Smithsonian’s website. The emerald’s current setting dates to the 1950s; Abdul Hamid reportedly wore the stone in a belt buckle.