AUCTIONS – Imperial and Royal Collection Vienna 1900 Smashes Estimates with All Lots Sold at Sotheby’s Geneva

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After weeks touring key Sotheby’s locations around the world and dazzling those who saw it everywhere it went, Vienna 1900: An Imperial and Royal Collection has finally gone under the hammer at Sotheby’s Geneva, achieving a White Glove Sale (selling 100% of all its lots, with over 82% of the lots selling above their high estimate) and generating total sales of over 9.6 million CHF – smashing its estimate (CHF 3 to 5 million) by more than three times.

AUCTIONS – Imperial and Royal Collection Vienna 1900 Smashes Estimates with All Lots Sold at Sotheby’s Geneva
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – NOVEMBER 6: XXX during Sotheby’s Geneva Luxury Week on November 6, 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by Robert Hradil/Getty Images for Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s dedicated standalone Noble Jewels Sale in Geneva, now scheduled to take place during Luxury Week in November, scored a spectacular sale success with this extraordinary collection of 207 lots spanning two centuries of European history charting the fates, fashions and fancies of central Europe’s most prominent royal families – a collection unseen to the public for nearly a century and appearing at auction for the first time. Sotheby’s worked in collaboration with the Philipp Württemberg Art Advisory GmbH to bring this collection to auction.

Rediscovered earlier this year in a German bank safe, the most important and largest Viennese Imperial and Royal jewellery collection ever to come to auction, boasted provenance from all the most prominent European royal houses linked to the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, offering an extraordinary jewellery journey through the lives of Central Europe’s most influential ruling families across the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ahead of the auction, and starting earlier in September, the collection had benefited from a world tour, that took in New York, Cologne, Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai, Taipei and London, where some of its most significant lots were showcased in a series of carefully curated events culminating in a celebratory dinner in Paris – staged only two weeks ago – attended by a glamorous members of Europe’s aristocratic society, some directly linked to the collection, and foremost antique jewellery collectors.

Hundreds of Bidders from Around the World

Over two sessions, a wide mix of hundreds of bidders fought over every lot in the room, online, and on the phone – many garnering more than five active bidders’ interest – hailing from all corners of the world. The sale witnessed especially strong bidding from across Europe and North America, from a rich blend of private individuals, dealers and some institutions.

Virtually every lot shone with over 82% selling above their high estimate. Lot 1197, an exceptional unsigned Garnet parure set from mid-19th century comprising a tiara, a necklace and three studs saw a flurry of bids and eventually sold for 88,900 CHF – over 25 times its high estimate (estimate 1,800 – 3,500 CHF).

Köchert and Emil Biedermann – The Finest Jewellers of their Time Under the Limelight Again

The Vienna 1900 sale became an unsuspected celebration of 19th century Austria’s two finest jewellers Emil Biedermann and Köchert, who were making jewellery mainly for the court – with Köchert still trading today. With the collection resurfacing after decades hidden away in safe, the magnificence of their exquisitely crafted creations was on full display through this sale, capturing dozens of bidders’ interest and taking many lots way above their high estimate, including the sale’s top lot (Lot 1089) – Biedermann’s spectacular natural pearl and diamond Devant-de-Corsage which achieved a stunning price of 1 million CHF (estimate 270,000 – 450,000 CHF).

Other Biedermann and Köchert lots achieving outstanding prices include:

  • Lot 1090 – a superb natural pearl and diamond brooch by Emil Biedermann, circa 1865, from the collection of the Archduchess Marie-Thérèse of Austria-Teschen, Duchess of Württemberg (1845-1927), sold for 863,600 CHF (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). 

The Vienna Court and History

Following the fall of the monarchy in France, Vienna saw its rapid rise as the ultimate Royal and Imperial court in Europe, welcoming royal families from across the continent. The most awe-inspiring splendour and glory in Western court life were in Vienna at that time and this unique Royal and Imperial jewellery collection is both its most faithful witness and its most dazzling representative, offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire historic pieces from a scintillating bygone era.

The collection fascinatingly depicts the grandeur of Viennese court life and affords a wonderful insight into the alliances, the tastes and styles of the Houses of Habsburg, Bourbon Parma, Bourbon-Two Sicillies and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when they were setting fashion trends at the Court that radiated across Europe from early 19th century and for the next 100 years. The collection features outstanding jewels from the collections of Archduchess Margarete Sophie of Austria (1870-1902), Archduchess Maria Immaculata of Austria-Tuscany (1878-1968) and Archduchess Marie Therese of Austria-Teschen (1845-1927) as well as of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria (1861-1948) and Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma (1870-1899).

Fashions at the Viennese court were dictated by Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916) and his legendary consort Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), best remembered by her nickname ‘Sissi’ and her famed beauty. When German court portrait artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter immortalised Sissi in 1865, wearing an arrangement of star-shaped diamond jewels in her elaborate hairdo, she started a trend for versatile star-shaped jewellery that lasted all through the late 19th century. The sale featured a charming suite of three diamond stars (lot 1075) which can be worn alternatively as brooches, hairpins or on a tiara frame.

Natural pearls reigned supreme during the 19th century. The collection featured extraordinary corsage ornament (lot 1089) designed as a garland supporting exceptional natural pearls. It was presented to Archduchess Marie Therese of Austria-Teschen (1845-1927) as a wedding gift in 1865. This is without a doubt the most significant 19th century jewel to come to auction in recent years.