These historical diamonds were part of the celebrated jewellery collection of “La Païva”, one of the most famous 19th-century courtesans in Paris and a leading figure of contemporary cultural and artistic society.
To mark ten highly successful years of dedicated Noble Jewels sales in Geneva, Sotheby’s will offer at auction The Donnersmarck Diamonds, a pair of extraordinary Fancy Intense Yellow diamonds with impeccable aristocratic provenance. The superb diamonds, formerly in the Collection of the Princely Family von Donnersmarck, consist of a cushion-shaped diamond weighing 102.54 carats, and a pear-shaped diamond weighing 82.47 carats. The exquisite stones will be offered as a single lot during Sotheby’s auction of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels, to be held on 15 November at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva. The pair is estimated at $9-14 million (CHF 8,810,000 – 13,700,000).
David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division, said: “These stunning diamonds carry with them a fascinating story, full of romance and determination over adversity, which could have inspired some of the greatest novels and operas, from Manon Lescaut to La Traviata. Ten years ago, they were the star of the show when we launched our very first sale dedicated to Noble Jewels here in Geneva. I am delighted to mark a decade of success by presenting these exceptional diamonds once again. Jewels of royal and aristocratic provenance carry with them a special sense of history and these are no exception: the auction in November will offer the chance for someone to acquire extraordinarily rare jewels imbued with a fascinating history.”
The Donnersmarck Diamonds were part of the collection of La Païva, Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck (1819-1884), arguably the most famous of 19th-century French courtesans, whose vertiginous trajectory from modest circumstances in her native Russia to the highest circles of European aristocracy was sensational. Born Esther Lachman, she arrived in Paris aged 18 and was rapidly introduced to the city’s cultural and artistic circles by her lover, piano composer and pianist, Henri Herz. This relationship gained her the friendship of many artists, including Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier, and Emile de Girardin.
In the late 1840s, she met the Portuguese Marquis Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva. They were married in 1851 but the marriage lasted only one day. Now known as La Païva, It was around this time she met her future husband, Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (1830-1916).
COUNT HENCKEL VON DONNERSMARCK
One of Europe’s richest men, the handsome and charismatic 22-year-old Prussian industrialist and mining magnate was immediately captivated by La Païva’s seductive charms, extraordinary mind and business acumen. Their relationship was the talk of Paris high society and in 1871, the two were married.
In 1855, shortly after they became a couple, La Païva purchased a building plot on the Champs Elysées. L’Hôtel de La Païva was to be one of the most lavish mansions ever built on the famous avenue. Among the building’s celebrated features is a central staircase made of Algerian yellow marble, which matched the yellow of the Donnersmarck diamonds. La Païva’s lavish parties and literary gatherings soon became the most talked-about events in Paris, often attended by the likes of Gustave Flaubert, Émile Zola, the artist Eugène Delacroix and even the Emperor himself.
La Païva’s love of fine jewels is legendary, and she had already acquired some fabulous jewels even before her marriage. Her new husband saw to it that her collection was without equal. Following La Païva’s death in 1884, the Count, who was created prince in 1901, remarried, taking as his second wife Katharina Wassilievna de Slepzoff (1862-1929) a beautiful and refined Russian aristocrat. The diamonds remained in the Donnersmarck family for more than a century until they appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in 2007. They come to auction this November after having been in a private collection for the last 10 years.
2007 – 2017: 10 YEARS OF DEDICATED SALES OF NOBLE JEWELS IN GENEVA
These extraordinary and evocative stones come to the market at a moment when interest in ‘Noble Jewels’ – that is jewels with great provenance, often with great stories to tell – is at an all-time high. Sotheby’s introduced sales dedicated solely to jewels of this kind in 2007. Since then, the market for jewels with royal and aristocratic provenance has gone from strength to strength.
Jewels of Noble Provenance are fragments of history. Having been worn in the splendour of mansions, palaces and castles, they have adorned the lavish evening gowns of queens and aristocratic ladies and been witness to thousands of secrets, gossip, intrigues, affairs and love stories. Sometimes given as tokens of love, they were designed to be symbols of the wearer’s status.
Most of the jewels of the aristocracy were crafted especially for their future owners, who thereby often became the forerunners of current fashion. Passed from generation to generation and thus preserved by a long tradition of inheritance, most of these jewels have never been remodelled, since their successive owners were keen to keep their heritage intact. Due to their privileged position, aristocratic and noble collectors have traditionally had access to the finest gemstones, in terms of quality, size and rarity, available in their day – a quality which still commands attention of discriminating buyers today, quite apart from the added appeal of the noble provenance.