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For sale: Jewellery with Nazi links

Christie's is launching the sale of jewels belonging to an Austrian billionaire, whose businessman husband made his fortune under the Nazis

A Bulgari-coloured diamond and emerald bracelet, part of estate of Heidi Horten
A Bulgari-coloured diamond and emerald bracelet, part of estate of Heidi Horten (AFP)

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Auction house Christie's will soon launch the sale of jewels belonging to Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten, whose German businessman husband made his fortune under the Nazis.

According to an AFP report, Christie's will offer 700 lots from the collection of Horten, who died last year aged 81. According to Forbes, she was worth $2.9 billion. Her collection includes "unique and exceptional pieces" from 20th-century designers including Cartier, Harry Winston, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels. As per estimates, the complete collection has an estimated value of over $150 million.

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Four hundred of the Horten lots will be sold at Christie's Geneva auction house from 10-12 May. Other pieces will be sold online from 3-15 May and in November.

Among the Horten collection is a 25-plus carat Cartier ruby and diamond ring and has "a saturated pigeon-blood red colour and fine purity", according to the auction house.

"What makes this collection particularly remarkable is the breadth and quality of the gemstones represented," said Max Fawcett, head of jewellery at Christie's in Geneva.

"You'll find everything from costume jewellery and one-of-a-kind haute joaillerie pieces, to historic jewels with exceptional provenance," he added.

According to a report published in January 2022 by historians commissioned by the Horten Foundation, her husband Helmut Horten, who died in Switzerland in 1987, was a member of the Nazi party before being expelled.

In 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Horten took over the textile company Alsberg based in the western city of Duisburg after its Jewish owners fled, states the AFP report.

He later took over several other shops that had belonged to Jewish owners before the war.

"How did a 27-year-old take over a major department store? Did he put the (Jewish) seller under pressure?" the historians wrote.

"The giant among the West German entrepreneurs remained silent about his activities in the years 1933-45. And so the image of an unscrupulous profiteer endures today."

On its website, Christie's says that "the business practices of Mr Horten during the Nazi era, when he purchased Jewish businesses sold under duress, are well documented".

Christie's CEO, Guillaume Ceruttitold AFP in a statement that the auction house's decision to take on the sale was made after "careful consideration".

"It was never Christie's intention to hide information about the well-documented history of Mr Horten and we have added relevant information to our sale materials and website to ensure that the facts are clear to all," he added.

The proceeds from the sale will go to the Heidi Horten Foundation, established to support the eponymous art collection, as well as to medical research, child welfare and other philanthropic activities that the wealthy heiress supported. 

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