March 13, 2012 at 8:12 AM ET
It’s not very often that a collection of jewels from one of America’s richest women goes up for sale. And these particular sparklers didn't belong to just any heiress: They were the jewelry of the mysterious and reclusive Huguette Clark, who passed away last spring at the age of 104.
The jewels, which were likely locked away in Clark's bank vault for more than seven decades, will go on auction at Christie's New York on April 17. Before her self-imposed seclusion in 1930, Clark was pictured wearing several of the pieces, including two diamond bracelets just after signing divorce papers in Reno, Nev., following the breakdown of her two-year marriage. The beneficiary of a copper-mining fortune, Clark never had children, and spent the last two decades of her life in a hospital room.
"To have this collection of jewels from the gilded age is going to be fabulous at auction. It's one of the best periods of jewelry manufacturing," said Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie's, on TODAY.
The priciest item that Christie’s will auction is a rare pink cushion-cut 9-carat diamond ring valued between $6 and $8 million. Christie’s believes that it may have been passed down to Clark by her mother, Anna.
Another rectangular-cut colorless diamond ring of more than 19 carats is estimated to be worth between $2 and $3 million. A 1925 art deco emerald and diamond bracelet by Cartier is valued at $50,000 to $70,000.
Clark’s multi-gem Cartier bracelet features 10 dangling ornaments, including an elephant, two lovers on a bench, and an angel. It's valued between $20,000 and $30,000.
Historians are no doubt hoping that next month's auction will give the public a peek into Clark’s vast personal estate and maybe even yield some clues as to why she disappeared from society before she reached the age of 30.
Clark's jewels are not her only possessions that are up for sale: Three Manhattan apartments are on the market for around $55 million. Her estate is now the subject of a bitter battle between her family and her nurse, attorney and accountant, who were given much of her inheritance in a second version of her will.
Rachel Elbaum is a London-based writer whose own collection of jewelry is worth somewhat less than Huguette's Clark's.