The Donnersmarck Diamonds and One of the 19th Century's Great Love Stories

By Sotheby's

T o mark ten highly successful years of dedicated Noble Jewels sales in Geneva, Sotheby’s will offer The Donnersmarck Diamonds, a pair of extraordinary Fancy Intense Yellow diamonds with impeccable aristocratic provenance at the Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale on 15 November.

THE DONNERSMARCK DIAMONDS. ESTIMATE $9,000,000–14,000,000 / CHF 8,810,000–13,700,000.

The Donnersmarck Diamonds were part of the collection of La Païva, Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck (1819–1884), arguably the most famous of 19th-century French courtesans, whose vertiginous trajectory from modest circumstances in her native Russia to the highest circles of European aristocracy was sensational. Born Esther Lachman, she arrived in Paris aged 18 and was rapidly introduced to the city’s cultural and artistic circles by her lover, piano composer and pianist, Henri Herz. This relationship gained her the friendship of many artists, including Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier, and Emile de Girardin.

In the late 1840s, she met the Portuguese Marquis Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva. They were married in 1851 but the marriage lasted only one day. Now known as La Païva, it was around this time she met her future husband, Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (1830–1916).

One of Europe’s richest men, the 22-year-old Prussian industrialist and mining magnate was immediately captivated by her seductive charms, extraordinary mind and business acumen. Their relationship was the talk of Paris high society and in 1871, the two were married.


In 1855, shortly after they became a couple, La Païva purchased a building plot on the Champs Elysées. Hotel La Païva was to be one of the most lavish mansions ever built on the famous avenue. Among the building's celebrated features is a central staircase made of Algerian yellow marble, which matched the Donnersmarck yellow diamonds. La Païva’s lavish parties and literary gatherings soon became the most talked-about events in Paris, often attended by the likes of Gustave Flaubert, Émile Zola, the artist Eugène Delacroix and even the Emperor himself.

La Païva’s love of fine jewels is legendary, and she had already acquired some fabulous jewels even before her marriage. Her new husband saw to it that her collection was without equal. Following La Païva’s death in 1884, the Count, who was created prince in 1901, remarried, taking as his second wife Katharina Wassilievna de Slepzoff (1862–1929) a beautiful and refined Russian aristocrat. The diamonds remained in the Donnersmarck family for more than a century until they appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in 2007. They come to auction this November after having been in a private collection for the last 10 years.

The superb diamonds consist of a cushion-shaped diamond weighing 102.54 carats, and a pear-shaped diamond weighing 82.47 carats. The exquisite stones will be offered as a single lot with an estimate of $9,000,000–14,000,000 (CHF 8,810,000–13,700,000).


David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division, said: “These stunning diamonds carry with them a fascinating story, full of romance and determination over adversity, which could have inspired some of the greatest novels and operas, from Manon Lescaut to La Traviata. Ten years ago, they were the star of the show when we launched our very first sale dedicated to Noble Jewels here in Geneva. I am delighted to mark a decade of success by presenting these exceptional diamonds once again. Jewels of royal and aristocratic provenance carry with them a special sense of history and these are no exception: the auction in November will offer the chance for someone to acquire extraordinarily rare jewels imbued with a fascinating history.”

The Donnersmarck Diamonds - Exhibition calendar

Singapore: 20–21 October
Hong Kong: 23–24 October
Taiwan: 26–27 October
New York: 3–4 November
Geneva: 11–14 November

The Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale is in Geneva on 15 November.

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