The Splendor and History of Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck's Emerald and Diamond Tiara

The Splendor and History of Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck's Emerald and Diamond Tiara


Princess Katharina Tiara

Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck Tiara // Sotheby's



In the realm of antique jewelry, few pieces command the awe and admiration that Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck's emerald and diamond tiara does. This resplendent headpiece, a marvel of 19th-century craftsmanship, has adorned the heads of nobility and has been sought after by collectors and connoisseurs alike. Its rich history, exquisite workmanship, and unparalleled beauty make it one of the most extraordinary pieces ever to grace the jewelry world.


Craftsmanship and Design

Before diving into the specific details of the tiara, it's crucial to note its craftsmanship. Designed and created in the late 19th century, it's said that the tiara was fashioned by none other than the House of Chaumet, a name synonymous with grandeur and luxury. The tiara features a series of eleven rare Colombian emerald pear-shaped drops that are set amidst an intricate lattice of diamonds. The latticework is mounted in gold and silver, traditional materials for antique European jewelry, which offer both durability and a complimentary backdrop for the featured stones.


Significant Owners

Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck

Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck remains a historical figure shrouded in the allure of 19th-century European nobility. She gained prominence through her marriage to Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, one of the wealthiest industrialists in Germany at the time. This marriage propelled her into a life of immense luxury, and she became known for her impeccable taste in art and jewelry, symbolizing the epitome of European elegance and sophistication.

In a society where jewelry often served as a symbol of status, influence, and even diplomacy, Katharina's collection was legendary. Perhaps the most famous piece was her emerald and diamond tiara, a stunning headpiece believed to have been crafted for her by the renowned House of Chaumet. The tiara, adorned with pear-shaped Colombian emeralds of exceptional quality, perfectly epitomized her style: luxurious yet elegant, extravagant but never ostentatious.

Though Katharina lived during an era marked by social and political turbulence, including the effects of the Franco-Prussian War and the transformative forces of industrialization, her life seemed almost untouched by these external forces. She floated in elite circles, attended grand balls, and was the subject of social admiration, her name synonymous with wealth, elegance, and high society. The tiara, and her broader collection of jewels and art, were not merely accessories but an extension of the woman herself—a living testament to an age of splendor and opulence now long gone.


Later Ownership and Auctions

After surviving two World Wars and passing through various hands, the tiara eventually found its way to public auctions. In May 2011, it was sold at Sotheby’s Magnificent and Noble Jewels Sale in Geneva for an astounding $12.7 million. This eye-watering price, in part, reflects not only the intrinsic value of the piece but also its historical and cultural significance.


Gemological Details

Princess Katharina Tiara

Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck's Tiara // Sotheby's


The emeralds in this tiara are of Colombian origin, considered the most coveted due to their pure green color and transparency. Colombian emeralds are known for their high-quality 'jardin,' the term used to describe the inclusions or 'garden' within the gemstone, which are minimal in these examples.

When the tiara first went to auction at Sotheby's in Zurich in 1979, the catalog suggested that its pear-shaped emeralds were connected to the French Imperial Crown Jewels, sold in 1887. Although Empress Eugénie loved emeralds, the auction catalog from that sale showed few emerald-set pieces, and none matching this tiara's gems. However, the Empress's private jewel sale in 1872 did include 25 polished emerald drops. Records at the Victoria & Albert Museum indicate no single buyer acquired enough emeralds then to make this tiara. Still, it's possible that 11 of these emeralds were later assembled to create this exquisite piece.


Carat and Size

The emeralds in this tiara range from 14.79 to 84.16-carats are estimated to weigh a total of 500 carats. These are not just any emeralds; they are pear-shaped, exhibiting excellent clarity and a vivid green hue that is characteristic of the finest Colombian emeralds.



The diamonds adorning this tiara are not to be overshadowed by the emeralds. The old-cut diamonds are meticulously set, bringing an added layer of radiance and allure to the piece.


Carat and Size

The cushion-shaped diamond of varying yellowish tints estimated to weigh approximately 68.00 carats in total, ranging from approximately 4.15 carats to 9.60 carats, VS-SI clarity (one I). The near colourless brilliant-cut diamonds estimated to weigh approximately 11.00 - 13.00 carats in total, and are smaller diamonds that are bright and lively. Old-cut diamonds have a different but equally compelling allure compared to modern cuts, with their deeper pavilions and larger culets providing a soft, romantic glow.


Geological Details

Emerald Formation

Colombian emeralds are formed in hydrothermal veins that have a unique combination of geological factors, including the presence of chromium, vanadium, and iron, which give the gems their distinct color. These veins are generally found in sedimentary rocks, primarily shale.


Diamond Formation

The diamonds in this tiara would have been sourced from traditional diamond mines of the period, potentially from South Africa, which was the leading source of diamonds in the late 19th century. These gemstones are typically formed deep within the Earth’s mantle over a period of one to three billion years, under extreme pressure and temperatures.



Princess Katharina Tiara

Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck // Sotheby's


As of its last known sale in 2011, the tiara fetched a price of $12.7 million. The intrinsic value lies not just in the sum of its parts but also in its provenance, craftsmanship, and historical importance. As gemological technology has advanced, it has become even clearer how rare and significant this tiara is, and its current value would undoubtedly be significantly higher.



Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck's emerald and diamond tiara is not just a piece of jewelry; it is a historical artifact, a work of art, and a symbol of a bygone era of opulence and craftsmanship. Its extraordinary gemological features, including its exceptional Colombian emeralds and meticulously set old-cut diamonds, make it one of the most exceptional tiaras ever created. The tiara's storied journey through history, from the noble halls of the Donnersmarck family to the high-stakes world of international auctions, only adds to its allure and mystique. In its beauty and complexity, it captures the essence of an age and the fascination of those fortunate enough to behold it.


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