The Donnersmarck Diamonds are to appear in Sotheby’s Noble Jewels sale in Geneva on November 15.
The pair of "fancy intense" yellow stones was gifted by Count Guido Henkel von Donnersmarck, the heir to a great Austro-German house, to his mistress – the infamous French courtesan Esther Lachmann (aka La Paiva).
The Donnersmarck Diamonds are among Europe's most celebrated noble jewels
La Paiva was famous for her love of the finer things. By the time she got around to Guido, in the 1850s, she’d already been through two wealthy husbands - one of whom she’d bankrupted.
The Count Viel Castel, one of the first directors of the Louvre, quipped in 1857: “She is at least forty years old, she is painted and powdered like an old tightrope walker, [and] she has slept with everyone.”
Despite the opinions of others in the French court, Guido was infatuated. She became his mistress. The two were married many years later in 1871.
When La Paiva died in 1884, Guido is said to have had the body embalmed and placed in the attic of his stately home in Upper Silesia.
These diamonds last sold for $7.8m at Sotheby’s inaugural Nobel Jewels sale in Geneva in 2007. This time around they’re expected to go for up to $14m.
David Bennett, 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...
“Jewels of royal and aristocratic provenance carry with them a special sense of history and these are no exception.”
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