Despite a lot of criticism, an auction of a late Austrian billionaire’s jewellery, claimed to have Nazi-era origin, has become the most expensive public sale in history.
Spread over the course of two live auctions in Geneva on 10 and 12 May (a third online auction ends on May 15), a treasure trove of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and tiaras, belonging to Heidi Horten, carried a presale estimate of $150 million. The first one was worth 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, states a Bloomberg report.
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, adds the report.
Horten died last year at the age of 81. 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, states the Bloomberg report.
“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!”
According to Forbes, she was worth $2.9 billion. Her collection included "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.