When Marie Antoinette’s pearl—one of the jewels smuggled out of the country as the King and Queen prepared to escape—was sold at Sothebys for a record breaking $36 million in 2018, the buyer remained a mystery. It wasn’t until almost a year later when a fuzzy online image from an award ceremony in Austria appeared. There it was, history hanging from one woman’s neck. Her name? Heidi Horten.
We should have known, and now we will. This May, Christie's will present The World of Heidi Horten, a sale of what they describe as the “largest and most valuable private jewelry collection to ever come to auction.” There are, Christie's International Head of Jewelry Rahul Kadakia tells Town & Country, only two jewelry auctions that passed the $100 million mark. “The Liz Taylor sale was $145 million and our Maharajas & Mughal and Magnificence sale brought in $110 million. The next after that? There is nothing even close.” The Horten sale will offer 700 jewels in total with a low estimate of $150 million.
Seven hundred jewels in case you are wondering, is a lot. There were about 400 in the Liz Taylor sale. Mrs. Horten, the widow of a department store magnate, bought her pieces, Kadakia says, “with passion. Beginning in the 1970s she educated herself over the years and bought the best. It is a complete collection.” Highlights of the sale of what Kadakia refers to as “the greatest European collection ever to come to market” include the 90 carat Briolette of India Diamond Necklace by Harry Winston, originally sold by Cartier in 1909, a three strand natural pearl necklace, also by Harry Winston (the necklace has an 11 carat pink diamond clasp in the back, where no one might see it, but that she knew it was there!); the Sunrise Ruby and Diamond ring of 25 carats by Cartier, and a collection of 1980s Bulgari that Kadakia says makes “Sharon Stone’s in Casino look like nothing in comparison.”
Per Christie's, the collection will be devoted to philanthropy, per Mrs. Horten’s wishes: all of the Estate’s proceeds will benefit The Heidi Horten Foundation, established in 2020 to support the museum of modern and contemporary art she founded in Vienna, Austria— The Heidi Horten Collection—as well as medical research, which has been supported by her for many decades.
“She was a fabulous collector and clearly a client to many houses. She bought and sold from us but nobody knew the entirely of the collection until know. She was a myth, a legend,” says Kadakia. And with 700 lots, he explains that “everyone can be a part of it.” One jewel, however will not be. Marie Antoinette’s pearl might have made it out of Versailles, but it did not make it into the auction. It will remain on view at The Heidi Horten Collection in Vienna.
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