The Sunrise Ruby sold for CHF 13.1 million ($14.6 million) at Christie’s on Wednesday, falling below expectations at an auction marred by complaints about Nazi links.
The 25.59-carat Burmese gem from the collection of Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten missed its low estimate of CHF 14 million ($15.7 million). In 2015, the same piece sold for more than $30 million at a Sotheby’s auction.
Offers for the celebrated ruby opened at CHF 7 million ($7.8 million). The sale lasted approximately six minutes, with slow and cautious bidding throughout.
The auction of Horten’s collection caught the public’s attention because the philanthropist’s husband made his fortune in Nazi Germany. The World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) wrote to Christie’s objecting to the sale, claiming Helmut Horten had bought Jewish businesses at a fraction of their worth in forced transactions.
The Sunrise Ruby was the top lot for the first part of the Heidi Horten sale. The gem is considered exceptional in every characteristic, from its size to its “pigeon’s blood” shade of red to being unheated, according to its grading report.
Other pieces also sold for less than at previous auctions, though it is unclear if this was because of the controversy, because past prices were inflated, or for other reasons.
The sale of 96 lots is the first part of an auction of 700 lots, all owned by Horten, to be sold over the course of several live and online auctions. The auction house says it is the world’s most valuable single collection of jewels to ever come to auction, surpassing both the 2011 sale of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection and the 2019 Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction, which are the only two jewelry collections to date to achieve more than $100 million.
Overall, the first part of the auction exceeded its presale estimate, achieving $156 million, a Christie’s spokesperson told Rapaport News Thursday. “We look forward to part 2 of the collection, which will be offered on May 12, followed by the online sales,” the spokesperson added.
Christie’s pledged to donate a significant proportion of the revenue from the auction to Holocaust-related charities. All of the jewels in Horten’s collection were acquired legally through legitimate sellers between the 1970s and 2022, the auction house pointed out. Proceeds from the sale will also benefit the Heidi Horten Collection, a museum of modern and contemporary art Horten founded in Vienna, as well as medical research, child welfare, and other philanthropic activities, the company has said previously.
Colored diamonds, diamonds, pearls and jadeite were among the top lots. The sale included 34 pieces by Bulgari and 12 by Harry Winston, with several showing up among the highest-priced sellers.
Image: Sunrise Ruby. (Christie’s)