Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: 2009 Geneva Auction of Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte's Jewellery

As hinted before, the fact that some of the jewellery of the late Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte in the 2007 Amsterdam and the 2008 Geneva auctions did not sell the first time around did not mean that they were saved from being auctioned off. In May 2009 another auction by Sotheby's, this time titled "Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels And A Celebration of Taste and Style, Magnificent Jewels from a Private Collection " was held and included former private jewels of the late mother of Grand Duke Henri.
Put up for auction again was the Van Cleeves & Arpels ruby bracelet that once was a gift from King Léopold III of Belgium to his only daughter by his first wife. The bracelet consists of an articulated band composed of three lines of oval rubies spaced by collet-set brilliant-cut diamonds, highlighted with brilliant-cut and baguette diamond links which are all mounted in platinum had already been born of a Geneva-based auction the year before. Previously estimated between 56,000 and 76,000 Swiss francs, the estimation was lowered to 25,000 to 55,000 Swiss francs, but in the end sold for 86,500 Swiss francs even surpassing the original estimation.
Another lot that previously did not find a buyer was sold at the 2009 auction as well. A sapphire and diamond bracelet as well as sapphire and diamond ear clips made by Verger & Cie, which once had been gifted by Grand Duke Jean to his wife on the occasion of their 20th wedding anniversary in 1973, sold for 33,750 Swiss francs. While the lot had been estimated to be worth 23,000 to 33,000 Swiss francs a year earlier, Sotheby's lowered the estimation 15,000 to 20,000 Swiss francs.
Continuing the streak of surpassing estimations was one of the four diamond bracelets already put up for auction a year earlier in Geneva. While it did not sell the first time around after having been estimated between 28,000 and 38,000 Swiss francs, Sotheby's estimated the all-diamond piece to be worth 15,000 to 20,000 Swiss francs for the second auction. In the end, the bracelet found a new owner for 31,250 Swiss francs.
The fourth and final lot containing Grand Ducal jewellery already in the original 2006 auction (that we could find) included a diamond bracelet that also did not sell during the Geneva auction in 2008. After the estimation had been lowered from between 18,000 and 28,000 to between 10,000 and 15,000 Swiss francs, the bracelet fetched 23,750 Swiss francs.

Like it was the case with the two previous auctions, we again do not know who the person behind the sellings was. While the three latter pieces were described as being the "property of a European collector", the ruby bracelet was described to be the "property of a lady". This is especially worth noting as it was said to be owned by "a gentleman" a year earlier. Of course we never know whether the information provided by Sotheby's about the seller are always one hundred percent accurate.

All the pieces of Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte's jewellery included in the three Sotheby's auctions in 2007 in Amsterdam as well as 2008 and 2009 in Geneva had already been part of the proposed sale in 2006. The original auction was cancelled by Grand Duke Henri due to the public outcry that started rumours ranging from the Grand Ducal Family being in financial problems to Princess Marie-Astrid and Princess Margaretha not being able to bear seeing their mother's jewellery on Grand Duchess Maria-Teresa, who had organised that tearful press meeting to complain about her mother-in-law while Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte was already cancer-stricken in the early 2000's. Back then, the Grand Duke stated in a press release that he had misjudged the sentimental value his late mother's property had to his people, but in the end, most of the pieces still ended up on the auction block.
The original auction contained about 200 lots of all kinds of personal belongings of Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte. The above picture, which was published by Point de Vue in September 2006, contains 30 pieces of jewellery of which at least 19 were sold anyway. As we do not know about the other lots included in the original auction, it is hard to find them in the three auctions we highlighted over the course of the last three Luxarazzi 101 editions.

Of the picture above, only three to five pieces rather certainly remain with the family. The Belgian Scroll Tiara in the picture on the right has been worn numerous times by Grand Duchess Maria-Teresa over the last couple of years, as has been the emerald bracelet in the upper left corner of the picture. Princess Margaretha stepped out wearing the Sapphire Bracelet Tiara in 2007 and possibly the central motif as a brooch in 2012. To the best of our combined knowledges, the Congo Diamond Tiara hasn't been seen worn since 2006 so it may have been sold. Princess Sibilla does own a seed pearl choker similar to the one in the upper left corner of the Point de Vue photo though we are not entirely sure whether it is indeed the same one.

We highly suspect that many more pieces - not only jewellery but also furniture and other items - formerly owned by Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte were sold. In fact, we did find a few other pieces of minor jewellery in the three auctions that were once worn by the late Grand Duchess.
For example, there was a lot - in both senses of the word - of jewellery containing 20 pieces of daywear jewellery that sold for 875 euros. You can see Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte wearing the encircled brooch on the picture on the right. Also sold were a collection of 24 cufflinks, studs and buttons for 563 euros as well as a sapphire and diamond brooch which the late Grand Duchess wore for her husband's abdication and son's enthronement in 2000. Consisting of an emerald-cut central sapphire and embellished to either side with circular-cut and single-cut diamonds, the bar brooch found a new owner for 5,625 euros. The cheapest lot in the auction found a new owner for six euros, imagine your share of Grand Ducal jewellery for just a handful of euros.
Another few examples include, from left to right, a necklace with Ginko Biloba leaves by C. Lalanne, Artcurial which sold for 8,650 euros, a lot containing seven pendants and a brooch picturing Luxembourgish sights - cause I can hardly think of anyone but a Grand Duchess who would own such a thing - for 875 euros, two bracelets that fetched 1,188 euros worn by Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte in the middle picture on her left wrist, and a lot containing 22 pieces of jewellery (including bracelets, rings, brooches, bracelets and more) which sold for 1,375 euros and seem to have been at least partly a gift by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. The bracelet including two citrines of the lot on the right can be seen worn by the Grand Duchess in the right picture on her right wrist.
Venturing back in more expensive territory, there were two diamond necklaces formerly owned by Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte as well. The upper necklace made out of brilliant-, circular-cut and baguette diamonds set in a stylised swag design and worn during an incoming state visit from Japan sold for 37,500 Swiss francs and the one beneath, which is worn by the Grand Duchess' grandmother Queen Elisabeth of Belgium in the painting at right, was made by Cartier circa 1915 and fetched 482,500 Swiss francs. Designed as a graduated series of collet-set circular-cut diamonds between baguette stones, suspending a similarly set articulated fringe, the necklace was the most expensive piece of jewellery sold.

As we have said and written before, of course the descendants of Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte have every right to do with the personal properties that they inherited as they please and Grand Duke Henri has no control over what his father and siblings do as private individuals. However, it does leave a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth when you first imply by cancelling an auction that you understood what the jewellery and other belongings of your mother meant to the people of your nation but then sell them anyway, just in a quieter fashion. Though one could argue that that the Grand Duke never explicitly stated that the jewellery would not be sold.


  1. There were some rumours in the late 90's that the family had lost money by speculating but nobody knows. There were also a lot of rumours of the family not being able to decide how to divide the jewellery and strained relationships between the siblings and in-laws.

  2. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of the jewels ended up in other royal families? That brooch is very interesting, and some of the bracelets were GORGEOUS. I'd love to see them on Mathilde or even Catherine, or perhaps Mary.

  3. It would be great but I guess that if some of the jewels were bought by other royal families, they were Middle-Eastern ones. I don't think European reigning families spend a lot of money on new jewellery these days.