'The Donnersmarck Diamonds' Two magnificent and historic fancy intense yellow diamonds
Katharina Wassilievna de Slepzoff, Countess Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (1862-1929),
Thence by descent.
Sotheby’s Geneva, May 2007, lots 437 and 438.
In 1855 she met Guido, Count Henckel von Donnersmarck. Their relationship was the talk of ‘tout Paris’. On 28 October 1871, Guido von Donnersmarck married one of the most renowned courtesans of the French Second Empire, Esther Pauline Blanche Thérèse Lachman, and gave her as part of her corbeille de mariage one of the most extraordinary jewels from Empress Eugénie of the French: a three row natural pearl necklace.
Guido, Count Henckel von Donnersmarck, later created Prince Henckel von Donnersmarck (1830-1916), was the son of Karl-Lazarus, Count Henckel von Donnersmarck, and Julie von Bohlen. The enormous estates of the family were renowned for their vast areas of forestry and agricultural land but also for their highly prolific silver, iron, zinc and coal mining industries. Following the untimely death of his eldest brother in 1848, Guido, aged 18, took over the running of these businesses.
When the Count first met ‘La Païva’ in Paris in the 1850s, he was immediately captivated by her seductive charms and her extraordinary mind and business acumen. In 1855, 'La Païva' purchased a plot of land on the Champs Elysées, engaged a young architect, Pierre Manguin, and set about the realisation of her dreams. She wanted to create one of the most lavish and magnificent hôtels particuliers ever built in Paris. It took ten years to complete and she commissioned Paul Baudry to paint the ceiling of the grand salon with a décor of Day chasing Night away; and it is believed that the model for Night was probably la Païva herself. The magnificence of this hotel was without borders: rooms were decorated with lapis lazuli panels, the staircase was carved from onyx. 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 and la Païva retired to Upper Silesia. In the park of Neudek, close to the old family castle, a new castle was created by the French architect Lefuel who had worked on the completion of the Louvre for Napoleon III. La Païva had instructed him to use the plans of the Palais des Tuileries as his inspiration. Soon after the war, they returned to Paris and were married on 28 October 1871.
La Païva’s love of jewels is legendary. She had by then already acquired some fabulous creations and was a frequent client of Boucheron and her new husband was to ensure that the jewels and gems she was now to receive were matchless. The Donnersmarcks were ardent patrons of the fashionable jeweller Chaumet.
The Boucheron archives, revealed in Vincent Meylan’s book, mentioned the 100 carat cushion-shaped diamond offered in this auction; it was bought by la Païva, now the Countess von Donnersmarck, in 1882 from the jewellery house.
La Païva, Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck, passed away in Neudek on 21 January 1884. In later years, the Count was to say to his children that whatever was said about La Païva, they should remember that he had always loved her. He remained a widower until 1887 when he married Katharina Wassilievna de Slepzoff (1862-1929), born in St Petersburg. The Count and Countess resided in Neudek and in a palace in Berlin. Pontchartrain was sold in 1888 and the Hôtel Païva in 1893; it is presently the Traveller’s Club. The new Countess was extremely jealous of her predecessor, and thus all personal effects and belongings, portraits or any images of la Païva had to disappear, with the exception of her jewellery, which was added to Katharina’s own collection.
These two exquisite diamonds, passed from la Païva, one of the most iconic figures of the Parisian Second Empire, 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. Ten years later, celebrating the anniversary of our themed Noble Jewels sale, we are delighted to re-offer them.