50 fabulous lots from 50 years of Christie’s in Switzerland
In 1968 Christie’s opened its doors in Geneva, its first continental outpost. Ideally located at a crossroads between several European markets, Switzerland soon proved itself a focal point for auctions of fine art, jewels, timepieces, wine, silver and automobiles. A decade later Christie’s opened a Zurich office, providing Swiss clients with a dedicated network of salerooms and specialists. Here, we take a look back at 50 of the most exciting lots that have been consigned by or offered at Christie’s in Switzerland.
Previously owned by the head of a European royal household and largely inherited from Augustus the Strong of Saxony (1670-1733), the collection sells at Christie’s first-ever Swiss auction for CHF 1,136,450 — despite local dealers threatening to boycott the new auction house.
At Le Richemond hotel in Geneva, with more than 800 guests in attendance, Christie’s first Swiss jewellery auction includes a collection of jewels once owned by the socialite Nina Dyer, ex-wife of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. The collection includes her black pearl necklace, which achieves CHF 580,000. It returns to Christie’s in 1997, realising CHF 1,268,500.
Christie’s first-ever Impressionist sale in Switzerland is nearly called off due to a massive snowstorm. But the auction goes ahead, and Armand Hammer manages to land his private plane in Geneva just in time to buy Paul Gauguin’s Bonjour Monsieur Gauguin for CHF 1,300,000 — a new world record for the artist.
Gifted by King Louis XIV of France to his lover Marie Mancini, the pearl and diamond earrings that accompanied her into exile sell for a staggering CHF 320,000 in Geneva, making them one of the world’s most expensive pairs of earrings at the time.
At Christie’s first Swiss vintage car auction, held at the Salon International de l’Automobile (now the Geneva Motor Show), Lord Hesketh buys a 1930 Mercedes Benz SSK Competition two-seater for CHF 240,000. In the same auction, Lord Montagu purchases a Benz 120 HP Grand Prix racing two-seater from 1908 for CHF 280,000 for his motorcar museum.
Discovered in 1914 when three miners tunnelled into an abandoned Australian mineshaft, the 263.18-carat Flame Opal, originally sold for £93 by the trio, fetches CHF 150,000 in Geneva.
A superb 31-bead imperial jade necklace realises CHF 1,250,000 in Geneva, instantly becoming the most expensive item of jade ever to sell at auction at the time.
The six-litre bottle of Bordeaux from 1889 sells for a remarkable CHF 1,500 at Christie’s first Swiss wine auction. The sale quickly becomes a biannual tradition in a country whose cellars boast substantial stocks of fine wine.
The 47.69-carat gem, unearthed by a young shepherd and traded for 500 sheep, 10 oxen and a horse, sells for a whopping CHF 1,600,000 in Geneva.
The gold-mounted box sells in Geneva for the second time in six years, fetching CHF 95,000 and setting a new world record for the most expensive porcelain box ever seen at auction.
A year after Christie’s first watch auction in Switzerland, the Geneva office sells a gold and enamel marine chronometer made by the famous horologist Thomas Mudge in 1777, known as ‘Green’. It realises CHF 250,000 — a new world record.
A pair of tureens made for the Duke of Kingston by Juste-Aurèle Meissonier sells for CHF 2,450,000, then a world-record price for any silver object.
Christie’s Arms and Armour specialists have a bumper sale in 1977. One of the most coveted lots is a 16th-century rapier once owned by the notable sword-collecting Cosson family. It sells for CHF 30,000.
Christie’s Geneva sells this 41.28-carat cushion-cut diamond set on to a Boucheron ring for a hammer price of CHF 8,000,000. The stone was formerly in the collections of Joseph Bonaparte, Princess Tatiana Youssoupoff and Lady Lydia Deterding, whose collection of jewels was consigned to Christie’s.
Christie’s Geneva sells this ornate cartouche-shaped snuffbox, complete with royal Prussian provenance and which is now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, for CHF 1,400,000.
Christie’s Geneva sells this remarkable bracelet, designed by Alphonse Mucha and executed by Georges Fouquet in 1899 for French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, for CHF 1,045,000.
Christie’s Geneva auctions a diamond-encrusted pocket watch (circa 1650) decorated with the Three Graces, complete with its winding key, for CHF 1,870,000, making it one of the most expensive pocket watches ever to come up for auction.
Made by Carl Fabergé and gifted from Tsar Nicholas II of Russia to his mother at Easter in 1913, this famous Fabergé egg sells for CHF 7,623,000 in Geneva, a world-record price for any Fabergé object. The egg sells again at Christie’s in 2002, this time fetching $9,579,500 in New York.
Princess Salima Aga Khan consigns the 13.78-carat heart-shaped, deep-blue diamond — a gift from her ex-husband — to Christie’s. The stone is mounted on a necklace of 41 smaller heart-shaped diamonds, from which hangs a second, larger colourless diamond weighing 16.04 carats. The Begum Blue sells for CHF 8,803,500, becoming the 12th most expensive blue diamond in the world at the time.
The recently rediscovered work by the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler of his mistress Valentine Gode-Darel sells for CHF 2,585,000. Hodler, who had been commissioned to design Switzerland's 50-franc note, becomes one of the auction house’s most in-demand Swiss artists.
A unique platinum, open-face tourbillon timepiece belonging to the prominent American banker and industrialist — one of the greatest commissioners of custom Patek Philippe watches — sells for CHF 2,252,000 against its estimate of CHF 600,000-800,000.
After being restituted to the family of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, four paintings by Gustav Klimt (including a portrait of Adele) are consigned to Christie’s Zurich. The sale total for the four pictures in New York reaches $192,704,000, which pushes the auction night’s total to $491,472,000 — then the most valuable sale in the history of auctioneering.
Christie’s London sells a collection of objects from the collection of Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, which had been consigned through the Geneva office. One of the highlights is a silver Fabergé cigar lighter in the shape of a chimpanzee, which soars past its £20,000-30,000 estimate to realise £168,000.
When the 200-year-old enamel, gold and diamond-encrusted pocket watch once owned by French empress Josephine Bonaparte comes under the hammer in Switzerland, it sells for CHF 1,505,000, more than seven times its low estimate.
Christie’s London sells three drawings by Francisco de Goya, which were previously catalogued as missing. Spotted by specialists in the Geneva office, the works realise £769,250, £959,650 and £2,281,250 respectively.
A work by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, better known as Fischli Weiss, sells at Christie’s in Switzerland for CHF 1,020,000, setting a new world record. The duo, who won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Biennale in 2003, remain among the most celebrated Swiss artists.
Christie’s Geneva office is asked to auction the Bacon work on behalf of a local collector. The painting is the most expensive lot of its sale night in London as it realises £17,289,250.
Christie’s Switzerland holds an auction to celebrate 25 years of the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, offering 226 Swiss artworks executed between 1800 and 2010. Of these, 26 are donated by living artists who have exhibited at the Kunst Halle in the past 25 years; all proceeds go to charity. The night’s top lot is Ferdinand Hodler’s Genfersee mit Jura, um 1911, which fetches CHF 2,640,000.
The only known six-litre bottle from the legendary Bordeaux vineyard in the notably hot year of 1947 sells for a gargantuan CHF 298,500, making it the world’s most valuable single bottle of wine.
At one of Christie’s Geneva’s biannual watch auctions, a particularly rare and previously little-known gold Patek Philippe watch from 1943 sells for CHF 6,259,000, more than four times its low estimate. The watch, a precursor to the famous 2526 model, becomes one of the most expensive timepieces ever seen at auction.
The landscape by Claude Monet doubles its low estimate to achieve $1,986,500 at auction in New York. An anonymous collector, who had purchased the painting from a local gallery almost 30 years previously, had consigned the work to Christie’s Zurich office.
Christie’s Geneva sells a single bottle of 1945 Romanée-Conti for CHF 109,250. The vineyard’s current owner had only tasted the vintage tipple once, 10 years previously, and only 600 bottles were ever produced.
In a Swiss art sale at Christie’s in Zurich, Giacometti’s bronze bust from the estate of Franz Meyer — Director of the Kunstmuseum Basel and president of the Alberto Giacometti foundation in Zurich — sells for CHF 1,020,000.
Christie’s Hong Kong sells the world’s only known pair of pistols that fire mechanical birds rather than bullets. Consigned in Switzerland and sold in Asia (the original market for which they were intended), they realise HK$45,460,000 — almost USD$6 million.
Christie’s Geneva auctions the perpetual calendar chronograph watch, one of only two ever made in platinum, and previously owned by the popular musician. It sells for CHF 3,443,000, making it one of the world’s most expensive — and arguably coolest — timepieces.
Christie’s Geneva auctions a collection of jewels once belonging to Brazilian philanthropist Lily Safra, with proceeds split between 32 charitable organisations. One of the star lots is Safra’s ruby-and-diamond ring by Chaumet, which realises CHF 6,243,000. The auction sells 100 per cent by lot and value, raising a total of CHF 35,115,325.
Christie’s Zurich is asked to sell the monumental 1957 painting by Mark Rothko. When it goes under the hammer in New York in November of the same year, it fetches an equally momentous $21,362,500.
In the 1960s Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger gave a yellow cotton tunic and yellow scarf to his close friend, Prince ‘Stash’ Klossowski de Rola, an aristocratic actor, musician and dandy, and the son of the Polish painter, Balthus. In 2012 it is consigned to Christie’s Geneva and sells at a Rock & Roll Memorabilia auction in London. It fetches £23,750 — almost 30 times its low estimate.
First recorded in 1933 when its owner the Archduke Joseph August of Austria placed it in the vaults of the Hungarian General Credit Bank, the cushion-shaped 76.02-carat diamond comes to Christie’s Geneva for a second time after having previously been sold in 1993. This time it achieves CHF 20,355,000, setting a world record price-per-carat for a colourless diamond.
One of Canaletto’s most recognisable scenes of St Mark’s Square, the work sells for more than double its low estimate after being consigned by its owner at Christie’s Geneva. Under the hammer in London, it fetches £8,461,875.
Christie’s Geneva sells a work by Hodler which depicts a shepherd and a dream-like scene of naked women. It realises CHF 2,880,000. Not long after the auction the winning bidder is announced as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the painting now hangs.
One of only 100 bottles released and complete with four gold-leaf-adorned glasses designed by Jean-Michel Othoniel, this bottle of Cognac Hennessy fetches a heady CHF 210,600 at Christie’s Geneva.
The gold watch, commissioned by the ruler of Egypt between 1936 and 1952 and complete with his royal insignia, fetches CHF 425,000 when it goes under the hammer in Geneva. In 2018 it returns to Christie’s in Dubai, where it achieves an even more handsome $912,500.
Christie’s sells the 9.14-carat fancy vivid pink pear-shaped diamond for CHF 18,127,500. At almost $2 million per carat, it becomes the star lot of the Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva. After the sale, the buyer renames the stone ‘Light of Memory’.
Owned by one of Napoleon’s most brilliant generals and then the founder of the world’s first news agency, Watch No. 217 is regarded as one of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s masterpieces. After decades in an important private collection, it sells for CHF 3,245,000 in Geneva.
Weighing in at 14.61 carats, the Oppenheimer Blue is the largest fancy vivid blue diamond ever to be auctioned. It sells at Christie’s Geneva, mounted on a ring flanked with colourless diamonds, for CHF 56,837,000 — nearly $60 million.
Christie’s auctions a particularly rare Chinese jar decorated with a painted blue dragon, consigned to Christie’s in Geneva by a Swiss woman who has been using it as an umbrella stand. When it goes under the hammer in Hong Kong it realises HK$158,040,000 (more than $20,000,000), making it the top lot of a sale commemorating Christie’s 30th anniversary of auctions in Asia.
Christie’s Geneva sells a 15.03-carat ‘pigeon blood’ red ruby, mounted in a ring with colourless diamonds, for CHF 12,571,500. The most expensive ruby ever sold at Christie’s, it is worth a staggering $861,129 per carat.
Christie’s auctions 51 photographs from the collection of Swiss film director Thomas Koerfer, who has consigned them to the Zurich office. His print of Man Ray’s seminal image Noire et Blanche, 1926 notches up €2,688,750 when it is offered for sale in Paris, making it the most expensive classic photograph ever seen at auction.
Christie’s Geneva office is set the task of selling the biggest flawless, D-colour diamond ever to come to auction. Masterfully mounted in an emerald-and-diamond necklace, The Art of De Grisogono — Creation I, which weighs a whopping 163.41 carats, fetches an equally stunning CHF 33,500,000.
Our sales in Switzerland continue in 2018 with Finest and Rare Wines on 15 May, and Magnificent Jewels on 16 May, both in Geneva. And there are, without a doubt, many more memorable and record-breaking auctions in prospect at Christie’s in Switzerland over the next 50 years.