Vienna’s Royal Treasures Smash Records at Auction

In a remarkable event that left the world of fine jewellery enthusiasts in awe, the Vienna 1900: An Imperial and Royal Collection took centre stage at Sotheby’s Geneva and exceeded all expectations.

This extraordinary collection, spanning two centuries of European history and featuring exquisite pieces associated with the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, achieved a feat that few could have predicted.

Vienna's Royal Treasures Smash Records at Auction
Lot 1083

The auction saw a resounding success, with 100% of the lots sold, and a staggering total sales figure of 9,652,762 CHF – a monumental accomplishment that surpassed the estimated range of 3 to 5 million CHF by more than threefold.

A Journey Through Time and Elegance

The Vienna 1900 collection represents an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the opulent world of Central Europe’s most influential royal families during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It boasts an illustrious provenance, with ties to prominent European royal houses, and had been hidden from public view for nearly a century until its rediscovery earlier this year in a German bank safe.

Before gracing the auction block, this magnificent collection embarked on a world tour, captivating audiences in New York, Cologne, Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai, Taipei, and London. The tour included carefully curated events, culminating in a splendid celebratory dinner in Paris, attended by esteemed members of Europe’s aristocratic society, some of whom were directly connected to the collection.

Exceeding Expectations with Unrivaled Craftsmanship

Lot 1197

The auction itself was a testament to the enduring appeal of noble and antique jewellery, drawing bidders from around the world. A diverse mix of hundreds of eager participants vied for each lot, either in person, online, or via telephone bidding. Particularly notable was the strong representation from Europe and North America, spanning private individuals, dealers, and institutions alike.

Many lots in the Vienna 1900 collection shone brilliantly, with an astonishing 82% of them surpassing their high estimate. A standout example was Lot 1197, an exceptional unsigned Garnet parure set from the mid-19th century. Comprising a tiara, a necklace, and three studs, it garnered intense interest and ultimately sold for an astounding 88,900 CHF – an astonishing 25 times its high estimate.

Emil Biedermann and Köchert: Masters of Their Craft

The auction became an unexpected celebration of 19th-century Austria’s two most illustrious jewellers, Emil Biedermann and Köchert, who primarily designed jewellery for the royal court. Köchert, still in business today, and Biedermann crafted exquisite creations that had been hidden away for decades.

Lot 1089

Their craftsmanship was on full display during this sale, captivating the interest of numerous bidders. The top lot of the auction, Lot 1089, was Biedermann’s breathtaking natural pearl and diamond Devant-de-Corsage, which achieved a remarkable price of 1 million CHF, far exceeding its estimated range of 270,000 – 450,000 CHF.

Exceptional Pieces, Outstanding Prices

Other exceptional pieces by Biedermann and Köchert achieved remarkable prices as well:

  • Lot 1090, a superb natural pearl and diamond brooch by Emil Biedermann, circa 1865, from the collection of Archduchess Marie-Thérèse of Austria-Teschen, Duchess of Württemberg (1845-1927), sold for 863,600 CHF (estimate 270,000 – 450,000 CHF).
  • Lot 1073, a highly important and historical diamond brooch by Köchert, circa 1887, from the collection of Wilhelm, Duke of Württemberg (1828-1896), sold for 266,700 CHF (estimate 16,000 – 22,000 CHF).
  • Lot 1075, an attractive suite of diamond brooches or pendants, circa 1900, by Wilhelm Haarstrick, replicating the star motif made famous by the legendary consort Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sissi or Sisi (1837-1898) initially created by Köchert, from the Collection of Archduchess Maria Immaculata of Austria-Tuscany, Duchess of Württemberg (1878-1968), sold for 165,100 CHF (estimate 9,000 – 14,000 CHF).
Lot 1073

A Glimpse into Vienna’s Glorious Court Life

In the wake of France’s monarchy’s fall, Vienna emerged as the epicentre of European royal and imperial courts. The collection vividly portrays the grandeur of Viennese court life and offers a glimpse into the alliances, tastes, and styles of influential houses like Habsburg, Bourbon-Parma, Bourbon-Two Sicilies, and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which set fashion trends across Europe from the early 19th century through the next century.

The collection includes remarkable jewels from the collections of Archduchess Margarete Sophie of Austria (1870-1902), Archduchess Maria Immaculata of Austria-Tuscany (1878-1968), Archduchess Marie Therese of Austria-Teschen (1845-1927), Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria (1861-1948), and Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma (1870-1899).

The Starry Influence of Empress Elisabeth

The fashion at the Viennese court was significantly influenced by Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916) and his legendary consort Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), affectionately known as ‘Sissi.’

When the German court portrait artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter immortalised Sissi in 1865, adorned with star-shaped diamond jewels in her intricate hairstyle, she ignited a trend for versatile star-shaped jewellery that persisted throughout the late 19th century. Among the highlights of the sale was a charming suite of three diamond stars (lot 1075), designed to be worn as brooches, hairpins, or on a tiara frame.

The Elegance of Natural Pearls

During the 19th century, natural pearls reigned supreme. One exceptional piece from the collection was a corsage ornament (lot 1089) designed as a garland, adorned with exceptional natural pearls. Presented to Archduchess Marie Therese of Austria-Teschen (1845-1927) as a wedding gift in 1865, this jewel stands as one of the most significant 19th-century pieces to grace the auction scene in recent memory.

In conclusion, the Vienna 1900: An Imperial and Royal Collection not only shattered estimates but also provided a captivating journey through the opulent history of European royalty. With the masterpieces of Emil Biedermann and Köchert taking centre stage, this auction will be remembered as a momentous occasion in the world of fine jewellery.

As the gavel fell on the final lot, the Vienna 1900 collection left an indelible mark, reminding us of the timeless allure of noble and antique jewellery and the enduring fascination with the splendour of the past. This extraordinary auction reaffirms the value of preserving and cherishing the treasures of history, ensuring that they continue to inspire and captivate generations to come.

Images: Sotheby’s

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