Jewels With Nazi Ties Sell at Christie’s Auction for Less Than Estimated Value After Jewish, Diamond Groups Criticize Sale
Many items in a jewelry collection auctioned off by Christie’s on Wednesday sold for less than their estimated value after the auction house was urged to not proceed with the sale because the items are linked to a German businessman who bought Jewish companies forcibly sold during the Nazi era.
The 700-piece jewelry collection belongs to the late Austrian billionaire and philanthropist Heidi Horten whose first husband, the late Helmut Horten, built his retail empire in the 1930s by purchasing Jewish businesses “sold under duress” during the Nazi occupation of Germany, Christie’s said. When Helmut died, he left “a significant inheritance to Mrs. Horten, the source of which is a matter of public record,” the auction house added.
A nearly 26-carat Sunrise Ruby ring by Cartier — which Heidi bought for roughly $30 million in 2015, according to the Associated Press — sold on Wednesday for just over 13 million Swiss francs (about $14.6 million), including fees and the buyer’s premium. Before the sale, Christie’s estimated that it would go for 14 million to 18 million francs. Two other Cartier items in Heidi’s collection also sold for well under their pre-sale estimated values — a two-strand jadeite and diamond necklace, and a rare sapphire and diamond ring. The latter was estimated to sell for anywhere between 2.2 million to 3.2 million francs and instead sold for roughly 1.4 million francs.
Also a historic 90.36 carat Briolette of India diamond necklace by Harry Winston sold for 6.3 million francs while pre-sale, Christie’s thought it would sell for 9 million to 14 million francs. Another Harry Winston item — a sapphire, cultured pearl and diamond necklace — was estimated to sell for 1.35 million to 1.8 million francs and instead sold for a little over 352,000 francs. Other items that sold well below their pre-sale estimated value include diamond earrings, a diamond necklace and diamond ring, all three from Bulgari, and a Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire and diamond ring.
Christie’s said the in-person auction on Wednesday in Geneva garnered in total $156 million, the Associated Press reported. A second in-person auction will take place on Friday with the remaining items from Heidi’s collection.
All proceeds from Heidi’s estate will benefit The Heidi Horten Foundation, which supports medical research, child welfare and a museum in Vienna that bears her name. Christie’s said that it will also make a “significant contribution” from the sale’s final proceeds to Jewish organizations to support Holocaust research and education, but Jewish advocacy groups criticized the auction house for even offering up the jewelry collection.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded that Christie’s cancel the auction before it even started, saying it in a letter to the latter’s CEO that Helmut’s fortune was the “sum of profits from Nazi ‘aryanization’ of Jewish department stores” in Nazi Germany. The Jewish group pointed out that Helmut “profited from ‘aryanization laws’ and used it to his advantage to buy out businesses by Jews desperate to flee Nazi Germany for a fraction of their worth. In 1937, he entering the Nazi party and while expanding his business in the Netherlands, he bought a business owned by Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps.
“Don’t reward those whose families may have gained riches from desperate Jews targeted and threatened by the Nazis,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC’s associate dean and director of global social action.
David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, told the AP that it “unquestionably trivializes the Holocaust to justify using money brutally extracted from the Jewish people under barbaric conditions — conditions people today barely understand — in order to support the profiteer’s chosen ‘charitable purposes.’”
“Mr. Horten’s fortune cannot be divorced from the murder of six million Jewish people, including one and a half million children,” Schaecter said in a statement. “In my opinion, anyone who buys this jewelry will be wearing the blood of the Jewish victims of the Shoah around their necks or on their hands forever.”
The World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) also asked Christie’s to halt the auction, saying that Horten’s fortune was “clearly associated with Nazi plunder of Jewish businesses.” The federation added that during a time of “Holocaust denial and the resurgence of antisemitism around the world, we find it especially appalling that a world-renowned auction house would engage in such a sale.”
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