A pair of impressive yellow diamonds, known as ‘The Donnersmarck Diamonds’. Once part of the jewellery collection of ‘La Païva’, one of the most famous courtesans in Paris and a leading figure in contemporary culture and artistic society, they will be auctioned at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels on 15 November in Geneva.
The Donnersmarck Diamonds are two rare Fancy Intense Yellow diamonds, with a fascinating historic provenance.
These two gems, 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, and they will appear at auction as one single lot. The sale estimate is of CHF 8,8-13,7 million (circa $9,031,131 – 14,043,870).
Two superb diamonds with an intriguing background.
The Donnersmack Diamonds were once part of the collection of ‘La Païva’, one of the 19th centuries most famous courtisane.
Born Esther Lachman in 1819 in Moscow, of humble origins, she moved to Paris in 1837 to seek her destiny. She used her charms to enter Parisian high society, nurturing highly prestigious connections with friends such as Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier, and Emile de Girardin.
In 1851 Esther married the Portuguese Marquis Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva and, thanks to this one-day marriage, she became known in the highest circles of European aristocracy as ‘La Païva’.
In 1855 Esther met Guido, Count Henckel von Donnersmarck. Guido was a handsome and charismatic 22-year-old Prussian industrialist and mining magnate, hence one of Europe’s wealthiest men. Their relationship was the talk of the town. Fascinated by La Païva’s seductive charms, lively mind and business acumen, the Count was to marry her on 28 October 1871.
Castles as tokens of love
Always in 1855, La Païva purchased a plot of land on the Champs Elysées. She engaged then a young architect, Pierre Manguin, and set about the realisation of one of the most lavish and magnificent hôtels particuliers ever built in Paris, the Hôtel de la Païva.
Around 1866, when Guido von Donnersmarck and La Païva moved to their new home, the Count also acquired a country house for his love: the château Pontchartrain, a 16th-century castle located 20 miles west of Paris.
On 19 July 1870, France declared war against the Prussians. La Païva retired then to Upper Silesia. In the park of Neudek, close to the old family castle, the French architect Lefuel created a new building. Soon after the war, the couple returned to Paris, where they married.
La Païva’s love of jewels is legendary.
Most noteworthy is that she had by then already acquired some fabulous creations and was a frequent client of Boucheron, whose archives, revealed in Vincent Meylan’s book, mentioned the 100-carat cushion-shaped diamond offered in this auction. La Païva, now the Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck, bought it in fact in 1882 from the jewellery house.
La Païva passed away in Neudek on 21 January 1884 and the Count remained a widower until 1887 when he married Katharina Wassilievna de Slepzoff (1862-1929), born in St Petersburg.
The new Countess was extremely jealous of her predecessor.
She had all personal belongings of La Païva to disappear, except for her jewellery, which became part of Katharina’s collection.
Hence, these two fine diamonds passed from La Païva to the second wife of Count von Donnersmarck, and remained in the Donnersmarck family for more than a century, until 2007 when they were sold at Sotheby’s Geneva.
In the words of David Bennet, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division:
“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 – Exhibition calendar
Singapore: 20–21 October
Hong Kong: 23–24 October
Taiwan: 26–27 October
New York: 3–4 November
Geneva: 11–14 November