By Michelle Graff
Graff,-MichellePrior to Baselworld, I took a side trip to Vienna, a mini-vacation before the big show.

Vienna, or “Wien,” is the capital of and the largest city in Austria, located at the edge of the country not far from the nation’s border with Slovakia. It is a beautiful city that is rich in history and, in retrospect, I wish I had given myself more than two days to spend there.

While in Vienna, I had the chance to do a tour, albeit brief, of Schönnburn Palace. Schönbrunn, which means “beautiful spring,” was a summer residence for the rulers of the Habsburg empire and remained an active palace until the downfall of the monarchy in the early 20th century.

My traveling companion and I arrived at Schönbrunn Palace late in the afternoon on Monday, following many hours that day at another Vienna landmark, the Belvedere, also a fantastic former palace that now houses an art museum containing many works by the famed Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. The most well-known Klimt work, “The Kiss,” hangs in the Belvedere.

But I digress. We only had about 40 minutes to do a tour at Schönbrunn so only saw a very small section of the enormous residence, but that still was enough time for a small bit of jewelry history to creep into my visit.

One of the former residents of Schönbrunn mentioned during my audio-guided tour was Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, whose brother, my pre-recorded hand-held guide said, was a man named Maximilian who was shot to death in Mexico.

This name, and his unfortunate fate, rang a bell for me and for good reason: in 2010 I covered the sale of the 39.55-carat “Emperor Maximilian Diamond” by Christie’s in New York, even making the trip uptown to the auction house to see the stone in person.

Although the stone is not of great color---it’s an I, which pales, or should I say darkens, in comparison to most of the stones the big auction Emperor-Maximilian-Diamondhouses sell, which are usually D’s and E’s---the diamond is relatively large and has an interesting history.

As the legend goes, the Archduke was wearing the diamond in a pouch around his neck when he faced the firing squad around 1866. The stone somehow made it back across the Atlantic to his wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, and its whereabouts were unknown for decades until it resurfaced in 1919.

From there, it passed through the hands of several gem dealers, including Laurence Graff who bought it at Christie’s in 1982 for $762,000. Christie’s sold it again in 2010 for $1.8 million.

This obviously is not the only important jewel to have passed through the hands of the one-time rulers of Austria. Franz Joseph’s wife “Sisi,” a very famous figure in Austrian history, likely had quite a collection as well. Perhaps I can learn more about it during my next trip to Austria, which almost certainly will include a second visit to Schönbrunn.

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