Diamonds with pedigree

Next month in Geneva, two outstanding pieces of diamond jewellery with aristocratic backgrounds will be going under the hammer. Chris Carter reports.


Next month, two magnificent pieces of diamond jewellery, as colourful as their histories, will go under the hammer in Geneva. The first will be the Grand Mazarin as part of Christie's Magnificent Jewels sale on 14 November. Originating from the Golconda mines in southern India also the source of the famous Koh-i-Noor, now in the Crown Jewels the slightly pink 19.07-carat diamond takes its name from its first recorded owner, Cardinal Mazarin, who became France's chief minister in 1642.

From there, the gemstone passed into the hands of the 23-year-old Sun King Louis XIV in 1661, who gave it to his wife, Maria Theresa of Austria. In 1792, Louis XVI surrendered the Grand Mazarin, along with the rest of his jewels, to the French revolutionaries. Disaster struck when thieves made off with the valuables but the purloiner of the Grand Mazarin was later captured and, not too surprisingly, he handed the diamond over in exchange for his life.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Almost two decades after that, in 1810, the emperor Napoleon had the diamond set into a diadem for his second spouse, Marie-Louise. From there, it passed down through his descendants until it became the property of the republican government, which sold it in 1887 amid public outcry. Frdric Boucheron, a jeweller to the great and the good, snapped up the diamond for 101,000 French francs a huge sum at the time. This time, the Grand Mazarin is expected to fetch up to CHF9m (£6.9m).

The following day it's the turn of the Donnersmarck Diamonds at Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale. This pair of fancy intense yellow diamonds come as earrings that once belonged to La Pava one of the most famous courtesans of the 19th century.

Advertisement - Article continues below

La Pava (born Esther Lachmann) arrived in Paris from her native Russia at the age of 18, where she fell in with artists and musicians, including Richard Wagner and Hans von Blow. In 1851, Lachmann married the Portuguese marquis Albino Francisco de Arajo de Pava, but the marriage lasted a single day. Four years later, she moved in with Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, a young Prussian industrialist and one of Europe's richest men. They married in 1871, and their lavish parties were said to be the talk of high society.

The diamonds, weighing 102.54 and 82.47 carats, sold for a combined CHF 9.7m to the same anonymous buyer when they last appeared at auction in separate lots in 2007. Ten years on the gems, this time being sold as a single lot, have been given a CHF 13.7m upper estimate.

Investing in style

"The phrase Art Deco is synonymous with elegance and style and, for the style-conscious collector, Art Deco jewellery could be a savvy investment," says Anna Temkin in The Times. Pieces from the period (including the slightly earlier Belle poque) have risen in value by 88% in the decade to 2016. Last month Bonhams in London sold an Art Deco sapphire and diamond necklace with matching bracelets, by Cartier from 1925, for £167,000. Pieces from other names such as Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels and Chanel also command premiums at auction.

Art Deco got its first outing at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris as the "visual embodiment of modernist principles", says Christie's. The style celebrated "the triumph of technology and the sleek, liberating forms of the machine age, [while] its emphasis on structure responded to a widespread desire for order in the wake of chaos" following World War I.

An emerald, onyx and diamond pendant necklace created by Georges Fouquet for the exhibition is expected to fetch between CHF 90,000 and CHF 130,000 at the Beyond Boundaries sale at Christie's in Geneva on 13 November. If ever a piece of jewellery could be said to be quintessentially Art Deco, this is it.




The last painting completed by Winston Churchill, three years before he died in 1965, is expected to fetch up to £80,000 when auctioned at Sotheby's in London on 21 November. Churchill gave The Goldfish Pool At Chartwell (pictured) to Sergeant Edmund Murray, who was his bodyguard for the last 15 years of his life.

Advertisement - Article continues below


The four-inch remains of a cigar stubbed out by Churchill sold for $12,000 in an online auction earlier this month. Corporal William Alan Turner took the cigar "into protective custody" after taking a photograph of Churchill with it in his hands. He wrote on the back: "A photograph I took from the doorway of York MW101 at Le Bourget airport, Paris, on 11th May 1947 just before we flew black to Northolt."



Share tips

Alternative investments: three hidden gems beyond stocks and bonds

Alternative investments such as private equity or commodities are one of the oldest forms of investment, says professional investor Alex Barr. Here. h…
16 Sep 2019
Alternative investments

The art market endures after a jittery 2019

Wealthy Americans stepped up to help calm the art market's jitters in 2019. Chris Carter reports.
10 Jan 2020
Alternative investments

Today's art markets are a paradise for bargain hunters

Now is an ideal time for collectors to go shopping at the art auctions. 
29 Nov 2019
Alternative investments

The money to be made from classic books

If the idea of surrounding yourself with valuable first editions has a certain romantic appeal, here’s where to start.
28 Nov 2019

Most Popular


Currency Corner: how high can the pound go against the euro in 2020?

In the month in which we should finally leave the European Union, Dominic Frisby takes a look at the pound vs the euro and asks just how high sterling…
13 Jan 2020

Where will markets be in 2030? Here are 20 forecasts for the 2020s

A lot has changed in the last ten years – stockmarkets soared, technology transformed our lives and politics has changed beyond measure. Here, Dominic…
14 Jan 2020
Personal finance

How much the state pension will rise by this year

While Boris Johnson promised to hold a full budget within 100 days of his election victory, many of the details of next year’s state pension increases…
10 Jan 2020

Money Minute Wednesday 15 January: UK inflation and house prices

In today’s Money Minute, we look ahead to the latest UK inflation and house price figures, plus we have Germany’s GDP data for 2019.
15 Jan 2020