It has recently been announced that next month, Christie’s Geneva will be auctioning the collection of the late philanthropist and billionaire art collector, Heidi Goess-Horten, which is said to be the largest and most valuable private jewellery collection to ever come to auction. The highlight of the sale is the legendary ‘Briolette of India’ Diamond.
A spectacular 90.38 carat colourless briolette diamond, D-color and a type IIa Diamond, the Briolette of India was likely mined in the famous mines at Golconda, and was first mentioned in the 12th century, making it the oldest diamond ever recorded, even more than the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. The Diamond was originally a double rose cut but was cut into a briolette by diamond cutter Atanik Eknayan in 1908-9. Believed to be the world’s oldest diamond on record, the Briolette of India has a long and disputed history, with long periods off the records before resurfacing. The diamond’s earliest recorded owners were said to be ‘Nawabs of Punjab’, at some point in the 11th century.
By the middle of the 12th century, the Briolette of India had found its way to Europe, where it was owned by Eleanor of Aquitaine, the then Queen of France, who may have acquired the diamond in the Middle East during the disastrous Second Crusade. The Diamond was her personal property as Duchess of Aquitaine, and remained in her possession after her second marriage, to King Henry II of England, later reportedly being carried by their son, King Richard the Lionheart, to the Third Crusade, likely given as a part of his ransom to the Holy Roman Emperor.
The Briolette of India next resurfaced in the late 16th century, when King Henry II of France presented the diamond to his famous mistress, Diane de Poitiers, though after the King’s death, the diamond was likely among the property that was surrendered to Queen Catherine de Medici. The jewel probably became a part of the French Crown Jewels, though was not notably distinguished and was either stolen in 1792 or sold in 1887.
The Diamond was cut into a briolette by diamond cutter Atanik Eknayan in 1908-9, and sold to Cartier ‘set as a pendant with a 126-grain pearl’, according to historian Hans Nadelhoffer, and was combined with ‘two 22-carat emeralds and the same pearl to form a brooch’ that was sold to American Financier George Blumenthal, and seems to have been worn by his wife, Florence Meyer Blumenthal, in a Tiara for her portrait by Giovanni Boldini now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
In 1946, the Briolette of India was acquired by Harry Winston from George Blumenthal’s second wife and widow, and sold to an Indian Maharaja the following year, reacquiring the diamond upon the latter’s death in 1956, when the Briolette could be worn as a pendant, a clip, and as a diadem.
The Briolette of India was remounted into a modern necklace of marquise diamonds before being sold to Canadian Millionaire I. W. Killam, reacquiring the necklace from the estate of Dorothy J. Killam in 1967, after which Harry Winston reportedly sold the Briolette of India to an Indian Maharani, according to historian Hans Nadelhoffer, who wore the piece as an Aigrette, though that may have been the wife of the earlier Maharaja.
In 1967, the Briolette of India was photographed by Richard Avedon on fashion model Penelope Tree, who held the unset diamond before her right eye. Harry Winston seems exhibited the Diamond at a dinner organised for American fashion editors in 1970.
In 1971, the Briolette of India, then set in the spectacular Harry Winston necklace, was sold to a ‘European client’, who tuned out to be Austrian Billionaire Helmut Horten for his young wife, Heidi, who was notably photographed wearing the Briolette of India Diamond Necklace in a portrait in the 1980s.
Heidi Horten continued her husband’s legacy as an Art Collector, most famously acquiring Queen Marie Antoinette’s Pearl Necklace for a record breaking 36,427,000 CHF, the most expensive natural pearl ever sold at Auction. Following her death last year, the Briolette of India Diamond Necklace is the highlight of what is said to be the largest and most valuable private jewellery collection to ever come to auction, to aid the Heidi Horten Foundation.
The Briolette of India is listed as a:
Briolette cut diamond of 90.38 carats with marquise and pear-shaped diamonds set in platinum. Two portions of the chain are detachable and may be worn as bracelets. The pendant is also detachable, with one bracelet with Jacques Timey’s maker’s mark. By Harry Winston, originally sold by Cartier in 1909 (estimate on request)
For the world’s oldest diamond, priceless in both its provenance and value, the Briolette of India is set to set records at auction next month. For those keen to see this legendary Diamond before it may disappear for centuries, ‘The World of Heidi Horten’ will be on display at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong | 3 – 6 April, Shanghai | 8– 9 April, Vienna | 15 – 16 April, New York, | 14 – 20 April, Taichung | 19 – 20 April, Taipei | 22 – 23 April, London | 22 – 26 April, Dubai | 27 – 30 April, and Singapore | 29 – 30 April.