Jewelry marred by links to Nazis fetches over $200 million at Christie’s auction

Auction house finishes round of sales from so-called Horten collection after rebuffing calls by Jewish groups to suspend it

This photograph taken on May 8, 2023 shows jewelry by Bulgari in display cases during a press preview of the "World of Heidi Horten" sales by Christie's auction house in Geneva. (Fabrice CoffriniI/AFP)
This photograph taken on May 8, 2023 shows jewelry by Bulgari in display cases during a press preview of the "World of Heidi Horten" sales by Christie's auction house in Geneva. (Fabrice CoffriniI/AFP)

GENEVA — Jewels belonging to an Austrian billionaire whose German husband made his fortune under the Nazis raked in more than $200 million, auctioneers Christie’s said Monday.

The $202 million raised far exceeds the previous record for such a sale, set during the 2011 auction of the jewelry collection of one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Elizabeth Taylor. At that time, the auction brought in almost $116 million.

Christie’s offered up scores of sparkling pieces at the controversial in-person sale, which began in Geneva last Wednesday.

The extraordinary collection belonged to Heidi Horten who died last year aged 81, with a fortune of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes.

A report published in January 2022 by historians commissioned by the Horten Foundation said Heidi Horton’s husband Helmut Horton, who died in Switzerland in 1987, had been a member of the Nazi party before being expelled.

In 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Horten took over textile company Alsberg, based in the western city of Duisburg, after its Jewish owners fled.

This photograph taken on May 8, 2023, shows Christie’s international head of jewelry Rahul Kadakia speaking on his mobile telephone behind a display case of jewels during a press preview of the ‘World of Heidi Horten’ sales in Geneva. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

He later took over several other shops that had belonged to Jewish owners before the war.

More than 700 pieces of jewelry were part of this Horten collection, which is being dispersed in waves to avoid exhausting buyers. The last lots are scheduled to be sold in November.

As it has done countless times in recent weeks in an attempt to respond to critics, Christie’s auction house stressed that in accordance with Heidi Horten’s wishes, all proceeds from the sale will be donated to philanthropic causes, “including medical research, children’s welfare and access to the arts.”

The jewelry auction went ahead despite demands by Jewish groups to call the sale off.

“Christie’s has also committed to donate a significant portion of its commission to organizations that contribute to vitally important Holocaust research and education,” Christie’s said in a statement.

But that wasn’t enough to stop the calls to suspend the Horten sale.

“Don’t reward those whose families who were able to get rich off desperate Jews targeted and threatened by the Nazis,” pleaded Rabbi Abraham Cooper, one of the leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization known for hunting down Nazis.

Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, has called the sale “indecent.”

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