As we are all well aware, Geneva is home to NGOs, Permanent missions and International Organisations, but what we are perhaps oblivious to or choose to overlook is that Geneva is also the hub of all things extravagant and luxurious. Lake Geneva and the cities and towns dotting its banks provide the perfect getaway to the uber rich and famous around the globe. Therefore, it is no surprise that one of the most expensive hotel suites in the world is here in Geneva. A stroll along the river in Bel Air or Rue du Rhone will reveal the opulent side of Geneva that mostly remains hidden from students like us.
It is here amidst the lavishness of designer boutiques, fancy hotels and restaurants that you find two of the biggest auction houses in the world, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Recent jewelry auctions held in both the auction houses made history for being one of the largest of their kinds. At Christie’s, in an auction held a couple of weeks ago, US jewelry maker Harry Winston picked up a rare pink diamond for a whopping 50.4 million Swiss francs. This glittering rock was mined in South Africa and was previously held by the Oppenheimer family, who ran the DeBeers diamond mining company in South Africa for decades. Renamed the ‘Winston Pink Legacy’, this ‘incomparable’ diamond was sold at a price that beat all previous records.
Sotheby’s soon followed with a record breaking jewelry sale of its own. Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma royal family and ill-fated French Queen Marie Antoinette went under the hammer last week. The jewels which were put on public display at the Mandarin Oriental before being auctioned included a tiara owned by the Bourbon-Parma family and a pearl pendant that previously belonged to Marie Antoinette. The pearl pendant auctioned at an unexpected price of 36 Million Swiss Francs, setting new records. Sotheby’s director of European sales called it the ‘Marie Antoinette effect’, referring to the sway the French Queen still has over the life of the upper class. It might seem quite startling to some of us who have been exposed to the rather distressing ‘Marie Antoinette effect’.
Presented with the rare opportunity of witnessing the exhibit, while I was captivated by the magnificence and the intricacy of the jewels, I was also left pondering over the two contrasting worlds, Geneva and Switzerland has to offer to its residents and expats like us. An encounter with a homeless man, soon after stepping out of the Mandarin Oriental, only served to strengthen the thoughts I harbored about the conflicting nature of the city. A Geneva that plays host to the people and things that belong to the highest echelons of human society and the other, barely two miles away, that seeks to represent and voice the concerns of the most disadvantaged and oppressed. The straddling between the two worlds that the city, so carefully, has been able to achieve is perhaps its biggest accomplishment, or to the cynics and idealists out there, its biggest drawback.
Featured Image: Christie’s