More from a mysterious heiress

EditorsJun 18, 2014

More from a mysterious heiress

In 2012, Christie’s Rahul Kadakia cracked open a case of extraordinary jewels that once belonged to Huguette M. Clark that were, as the story goes, kept in a bank vault untouched since the 1940s.

[caption id="attachment_2386" align="alignleft" width="164"]

A young Huguette Clark[/caption]

At that time, Kadakia called finding this collection of jewels one of the most extraordinary moments of his then-15-year career at the auction house.

The auctioneer experienced another extraordinary moment later that same year, when Christie’s sold Clark’s collection of jewels for $18.3 million, exceeding its highest pre-sale estimate of $12 million.

Today in New York, the woman described as an eccentric recluse will have one more chance to make a very public impression at the auction house.

Christie’s is auctioning off Clark’s three New York City apartments and their contents, a collection of rare books, antiques and paintings. (Just to give readers an idea of the type of paintings that hung in these long-unoccupied apartments, one Monet Water Lilies painting from the estate already has been sold, for $24 million.)

[caption id="attachment_2387" align="alignright" width="272"]
A copy of "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens, one of the rare books included in the auction. Photo credit: Christie's Images Ltd.[/caption]

A heiress of the Gilded Age whose father’s copper mining fortune rivaled that of the Rockefellers, Clark lived the last 20 years of her life--she made it to 104, so from her mid-80s until her death in 2011--in a room in Manhattan’s Beth Israel Medical Center. Her decision to live in a hospital room came despite the fact that she was not sick and did not lack for adequate shelter. She had mansions in Connecticut and California in addition to her Manhattan apartments.

She also was incredibly generous with her longtime nurse, lawyer and accountant, to the point it prompted an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Was this the case of a very wealthy woman who was being taken advantage of in her later years?

Ultimately, the answer seems to be no. The investigation closed without any charges being filed.

Clark, who was unmarried for the majority of her life, apparently was very aware of what she was doing. Living in that hospital brought her something that staying among expensive paintings, antique furniture, rare books and, yes, even millions in jewelry could not provide--visitors, companionship and a sense of being cared for.

I think those are desires with which anybody who has spent long stretches of their life alone can identify.

Christie’s auction of Clark’s possessions is scheduled to take place today in New York.

To read more about this reclusive heiress, check out Empty Mansions and The Phantom of Fifth Avenue, two recently published books about Clark’s life and death.
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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