Christie’s to auction Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten’s jewellery collection

Christie’s auction house will commence the sale of hundreds of jewels that belonged to the late Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten, whose fortune was derived from her German businessman husband who amassed wealth during the Nazi era.

The prestigious auction house will offer 700 lots from Horten’s collection, showcasing rare and exceptional pieces from renowned 20th-century designers such as Cartier, Harry Winston, Bulgari, and Van Cleef & Arpels. The entire collection has an estimated value of over US$150 million.

The sale could potentially surpass previous auction records set by Christie’s, including the sales of properties belonging to the late actress Elizabeth Taylor in 2011 and the “Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence” collection in 2019, both of which exceeded US$100 million.

A standout item in the collection is a Cartier ruby and diamond ring, weighing 25.59 carats and boasting a rich pigeon-blood red hue and impressive purity, as described by the auction house.

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According to Max Fawcett, Head of Jewellery at Christie’s in Geneva, the collection is particularly noteworthy owing to the variety and quality of the gemstones on display. He added that the pieces range from costume jewellery and bespoke haute joaillerie items to historic jewels with significant provenance. Heidi Horten, who passed away last year at the age of 81, had an estimated net worth of US$2.9 billion, according to Forbes.

The Horten Foundation, which commissioned historians to study Helmut Horten’s background, published a report in January 2022 which revealed his Nazi party membership before being expelled.

In 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany, Horten assumed control of the Alsberg textile company based in Duisburg following the departure of its Jewish owners. He later took over several other shops previously owned by Jewish proprietors before the war. Historians questioned the methods employed by the then 27 year old to gain control of a major department store and whether he intimidated the Jewish sellers.

The lack of information about his activities during the period between 1933 and 1945 led to the prevailing image of an unscrupulous profiteer. After the war, the Allied denazification committee exonerated Helmut Horten.

Christie’s website acknowledges the documented evidence of Horten’s business practices during the Nazi era, including his acquisition of Jewish businesses sold under duress. Guillaume Cerutti, the auction house’s CEO, conveyed in a statement to AFP that their decision to proceed with the sale was made after careful deliberation. Cerutti added that Christie’s never intended to conceal information about Horten’s history, ensuring that the pertinent facts are made clear on the sale materials and website.

Christie’s emphasised that the sale proceeds will be directed towards the Heidi Horten Foundation, established in 2021 to support the eponymous art collection, as well as medical research, child welfare, and other philanthropic initiatives associated with the wealthy heiress.

Furthermore, Christie’s confirmed that it will make a significant contribution from its final auction proceeds to an organisation dedicated to advancing Holocaust research and education. Four hundred lots from the Horten collection will be sold at Christie’s Geneva auction house from May 10 to 12, with additional pieces being sold online from May 3 to 15 and in November.

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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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