On the morning of November 13, 2013 at Sotheby’s Geneva, it was hot. During the season the auction House put its fourth most special diamond up for sale. And it became a desirable piece for many. Following the 60 cts “Pink Star”, 118 cts oval-cut D-Flawless Type IIa diamond, as well as the 7.59 cts fancy vivid blue diamond, the sophisticated audience was presented with a 96.62 cts fancy yellow vivid VS2 diamond.
The lot’s provenance and unusual frame only added to the special value. For nearly half a century, it was owned by an opera singer, Hanna Walska, born as Anna Pugach. She had received a diamond as a gift from one of her six spouses. This woman didn’t have much singing talent, but she was excellent at collecting rich husbands and outstanding jewelry. In 1936, the US press association estimated Walska’s financial position, acquired from the “correct” marriages, as $125 million. She spent about a twelfth of this sum on unsuccessful attempts to be an opera singer. Perhaps nobody would remember this woman if she hadn’t collected her jewelry assemblage.
When and where the diamond was purchased, nobody knows. During the Roaring Twenties, Cartier jewelers set it in a pendant. Hanna wore the piece for many years like a sautoir on a long chain. In 1971, to the surprise of many, Madame Walska decided to sell her entire collection of jewelry. For her last few decades she lived in the Lotusland garden near Santa Barbara. And she needed money to maintain it. At a New York auction for 146 lots the House of Sotheby’s generated $916,000 (equivalent to $ 5,289,662.52 today). It was double that of initially expected.
“The Paradise Bird” brooch
The 96.62 cts fancy yellow vivid VS2 diamond was purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels’s agents, who immediately called it “Walska”. A year later, commissioned by an important American client, the stone was set into a transformable Bird brooch. Thanks to its hidden mechanism the wings could be turned into earrings, the tail into a smaller brooch, and the legendary diamond into a pendant — the same that was so beloved by Hanna.
The Museum collection of Van Cleef & Arpels
The piece was a part of the client’s collection for about forty years. Then it was resold in 2011, and then again in 2013. Currently it is part of the Van Cleef & Arpels museum’s collection. The brooch was acquired for a record 9,685,000 Swiss francs.