Austrian billionaire’s Nazi-linked jewel collection fetches over $155 million at auction

Photo Courtesy Bangkok Post

Jewellery once owned by Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten, who passed away last year at the age of 81, has fetched over US$155 million in a recent controversial auction held in Geneva by Christie’s. The auction faced criticism from Jewish groups due to connections to Horten’s husband, who made his fortune under the Nazis. However, Christie had argued that the sale would have a significant philanthropic impact, with proceeds going towards causes such as Holocaust research and education.

The collection, which includes pieces from renowned designers such as Cartier, Bulgari, and Van Cleef & Arpels, consists of 700 jewels. Only a portion of the collection has been sold so far, but the auction has already surpassed previous records set by sales of Elizabeth Taylor’s properties in 2011 and the “Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence” collection in 2019, which each exceeded US$100 million.

Despite the controversy surrounding the auction, Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s international head of jewelry, was pleased with the overall result. He emphasized that the auction house achieved US$155 million on the first sale alone, a figure higher than the predicted US$150 million for the entire 700-piece collection. However, some items did not reach their estimated values, such as the Sunrise Ruby and the 90.36-carat Briolette of India diamond pendant.

Historians commissioned by the Horten Foundation published a report in January 2022, indicating that Helmut Horten, Heidi’s husband who died in Switzerland in 1987, had been a member of the Nazi party before being expelled. He later took over several shops that had formerly belonged to Jewish owners before the war. Numerous Jewish groups urged Christie’s to halt the Horten sale, with the Simon Wiesenthal Center requesting the suspension of the auction until all research into links with Nazi-era acquisitions had been concluded.

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Despite these concerns, Christie’s proceeded with the sale, insisting that the proceeds would go towards worthwhile causes such as child protection and welfare, medical research, and access to the arts. The auction house also stated that a significant donation would be made separately towards Holocaust research and education. In May, another 400 of the Horten lots will be auctioned, with a further 300 pieces going up for sale online in November, reports Bangkok Post.

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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