‘Briolette of India’ and 699 other jewels belonging to an Austrian heiress will go on sale at Christie’s on May 3 as part of one of the largest jewellery sales in history. According to New York Times, the auction house is predicting that jewels from the estate of Heidi Horten, the heiress who died last year, will bring in more than $150 million.
The sale could eclipse previous records set by Christie’s in sales of properties that belonged to actress Elizabeth Taylor in 2011 and the “Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence” collection in 2019, both of which exceeded $100 million, according to an AFP report.
Heidi Horten died last year aged 81. According to Forbes, she was worth $2.9 billion.
However, the auction house has also acknowledged that the jewellery collection once owned by Helmut Horten, dead since 1987 made a fortune by purchasing businesses from German Jews who were forced to sell during World War II.
Anthea Peers, president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Africa told New York Times, “We are aware there is a painful history. We weighed that up against various factors.” She added saying that the foundation is “a key driver of philanthropic causes.”
In a report published in January 2022 by historians commissioned by the Horten Foundation, her husband Helmut Horten, who died in Switzerland in 1987, was a member of the Nazi party before being expelled, AFP reported.
In 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Horten took over the textile company Alsberg based in the western city of Duisburg after its Jewish owners fled.
He later took over several other shops that had belonged to Jewish owners before the war.
“How did a 27-year-old take over a major department store? Did he put the (Jewish) seller under pressure?” the historians wrote.
“The giant among the West German entrepreneurs remained silent about his activities in the years 1933-45. And so the image of an unscrupulous profiteer endures today.”
The Allied denazification committee exonerated Helmut Horten after the war.
On its website, Christie’s says that “the business practices of Mr Horten during the Nazi era, when he purchased Jewish businesses sold under duress, are well documented”.
Christie’s CEO, Guillaume Ceruttitold AFP in a statement that the auction house’s decision to take on the sale was made after “careful consideration”.
“It was never Christie’s intention to hide information about the well-documented history of Mr Horten and we have added relevant information to our sale materials and website to ensure that the facts are clear to all,” he added.
The auction house has stressed that the proceeds from the sale will go to the Heidi Horten Foundation, established in 2021 to support the eponymous art collection, as well as to medical research, child welfare and other philanthropic activities that the wealthy heiress supported.
“For our part, Christie’s will make a significant contribution from its final proceeds of the auction to an organisation that further advances Holocaust research and education,” it added in its online statement.
Four hundred of the Horten lots will be sold at Christie’s Geneva auction house from May 10 to 12.
Other pieces will be sold online from May 3 to 15 and in November.