Diamonds with pedigree

The Grand Mazarin diamond © Sotheby's
The Grand Mazarin: beloved of French royalty

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.

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. Frédéric 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 Païva – one of the most famous courtesans of the 19th century.

La Païva (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 Bülow. In 1851, Lachmann married the Portuguese marquis Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva, 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 Époque) 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 Goldfish Pool At Chartwell by Winston Churchill



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.


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.”