Geneva’s Gem and Jewelry Results Gleam Despite Controversy

On the rocks: Big diamonds and Bulgari stood out at the latest Swiss auctions, which included the contentious yet high-value Heidi Horten sale.

July 30, 2023  |  David Brough
Auctions Geneva July August Magazine 1280 USED 073023

The controversial Christie’s sale of Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten’s jewelry as part of the Geneva auctions beat estimates despite publicity about how her first husband, Helmut Horten, had made his fortune in Nazi Germany.

The sale of the Horten collection in Geneva garnered over $202 million, well above the $162 million low estimate for the three-part auction. A number of exceptional signed pieces outperformed expectations, though there were a few disappointing results.

The subdued result for the Sunrise Ruby dominated the talk within the trade following part one of the sale, which took place on May 10. The 25.59-carat gem was the center of a Cartier ring that netted CHF 13.1 million ($14.6 million), falling short of its CHF 14 million ($15.7 million) low estimate. In 2015, the same piece sold for more than $30 million at a Sotheby’s auction.

Some dealers stated privately that they’d eschewed bidding in the May sale after the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) said Helmut Horten had bought Jewish businesses at a fraction of their worth in forced transactions. The WFDB had written a public letter to Christie’s to protest the auction.

“I would like to express the WFDB’s objection to this sale, so clearly associated with Nazi plunder of
Jewish businesses,” wrote federation president Yoram Dvash.

Nonetheless, many items in the sale exceeded their estimates — such as a Bulgari ring featuring a rare emerald-cut, fancy-intense-pink diamond of 6.99 carats, which more than doubled its highest valuation by selling for CHF 9.1 million ($10.2 million).

Great Mughal emerald pendant necklace by Harry Winston from the Heidi Horten collection at Christie’s. (Christie’s Images 2023)

Signed shines

Shortly after the Horten sale, both Christie’s and Sotheby’s staged Magnificent Jewels auctions in Geneva. These once again highlighted the resilience of the top-tier market, especially demand for remarkable signed pieces.

At the May 17 Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues — which included the Fabulous Jewels by JAR sale — signed items performed well. That said, one of the top lots was the Star of Egypt, an unmounted cut-cornered rectangular step-cut diamond of 105.52 carats. It sold for CHF 2.7 million ($3 million) — comfortably within estimates — following sustained bidding.

At the Sotheby’s event, which took place the day before at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, the top lot was the 11.16-carat Laguna Blu diamond. The Bulgari ring featuring the exquisite fancy-vivid-blue stone netted $25.2 million, the highest value a jewel from that maison has ever achieved at auction.

The Bulgari Laguna Blu was the last item to go under the hammer in the second session of the Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale, following a string of spectacular signed pieces and exceptional gemstones. After a four-minute battle among three telephone bidders and one in the room, it eventually went to a phone buyer.

Sapphires from all origins were sought after, and surprisingly, spinels…reached top prices.

Collectible colors

Colored gems, especially in signed jewels, had an exceptional evening at Sotheby’s. Rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and yellow and pink diamonds led the charge.

“Sapphires from all origins were sought after, and surprisingly, spinels — in vibrant color and clean — reached top prices,” says Geneva-based dealer Elke Berr. “Paraiba tourmalines and fancy-color sapphires, especially pinks, fetched higher prices than estimated.”

A necklace incorporating finely graduated natural pearls elicited a bidding frenzy at the Sotheby’s sale, underscoring their extreme rarity and investment potential. The necklace garnered nearly four times its high estimate, bringing in CHF 1.1 million ($1.2 million).

“Despite the enormous sale totals for the week, the market is still quite selective,” remarks consultant Matthew Girling, who was formerly the global CEO of Bonhams. “Signed period jewelry performed really well, but demand for diamonds and colored stones was more muted, unless the estimates were appealing and calibrated to attract demand.”

This article is from the July-August 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

Main image: Bulgari’s 11.16-carat Laguna Blu diamond. (Sotheby’s)

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Auctions Geneva July August Magazine 1280 USED 073023 Geneva’s Gem and Jewelry Results Gleam Despite Controversy

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