Swim Class: Olympic Gold Medalist Katherine Domyan’s Jewelry Is Bonhams Bound

Auction alert: More than 60 pieces of fine jewelry dating from the 1970s to the early 2000s will be coming to Bonhams New York next month. The hoard is part of the impressive collection belonging to the estate of two-time Olympic gold medalist Katherine Domyan and her husband, Arpad, acquired throughout their 56-year marriage.

The sale will take place at Bonhams New York on September 21, with previews September 16–20, and previews in Los Angeles September 5-10.

Many of the world’s most famous jewelry houses including Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, and David Webb are on offer; in total, the estimated value of the lots is between $2.1 million and $3.15 million.

Meanwhile, prestigious provenance and an intriguing backstory make the prospect of acquiring one of the jewels even more appealing.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Domyan was a champion swimmer at the age of 17 and was chosen to compete in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. There, she won two gold medals and set world records in the 100-meter freestyle relay and the 4 x 100–meter freestyle relay. Facing ongoing sociopolitical unrest in war-torn Hungary, Domyan sought political asylum in the United States while participating in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. However, an immigration quota in effect at the time had been filled, thus forcing Domyan and her teammates to remain stranded in Melbourne.

That is, until Sports Illustrated magazine picked up their story. Eventually, by special invitation from President Eisenhower, Katherine and the other Hungarian athletes were granted political asylum in the United States. In 1957, Katherine moved to the United States and in 1961 went on to marry fellow Hungarian refugee, Arpad, an athlete in this own right, whom she had known since childhood.

In America, the couple built a successful real estate development company in Los Angeles and became committed patrons of the arts and philanthropists.

As they traveled between New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and the south of France, they largely enjoyed a glamorous lifestyle, one that centered on black-tie events, complete with floor-length gowns and dramatic diamond fringe necklaces, among other major jewels, a few of which are showcased below.

David Webb rock crystal and diamond bracelet
Lot 99: Rock crystal, diamond and ruby bangle, David Webb
David Webb emerald and diamond necklace
Lot 101: Emerald and diamond necklace, David Webb
Paul Flato and Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet
Lot 107: Art Moderne diamond clip, Paul Flato, with accompanying fitted bangle, Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1935
Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond bracelet full length
Lot 108: Art Deco ruby and diamond bracelet, Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1940 (also pictured at top)
Harry WInston diamond earrings
Lot 109: Diamond earrings, Harry Winston, 1982
Harry Winston diamond necklaces and ring
Lots 110, 111, 112: Diamond ring (23.13 cts. t.w. diamonds), 1985, and two diamond necklaces, 1984; all Harry Winston



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Amy Elliott

JCK Contributing Editor

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