Just one look at the jewels from Katherine Szőke Domyan’s collection going on the auction block at Bonhams in New York on September 21, 2018 reveal she had exceptional style. Once you find out how she wore them the level of elegance goes beyond breathtaking. “The most memorable pieces for me are the two Harry Winston diamond necklaces, which she often wore together,” explains her son Bryan Domyan. “They made quite the statement.”
The over 60 jewels in the collection are a dazzling reflection of the 56-year-long marriage between Katherine, who was known as Kati, and her husband Arpad Domyan. “My father could never resist buying my mother jewelry and I know this because I was with them for almost every purchase as a child,” explains Bryan. “The occasion was secondary to her desire; if a piece captured her eye, he wanted her to have it. It brought him tremendous joy to see her happy.”
The couple’s fascinating lives evolved into a very different experience than the place where it started. Katherine Szőke and Arpad Domyan were members of the famous 1956 Hungarian Olympic team who arrived in Melbourne, Australia. She had won gold medals during the 1952 Helsinki Games in 100-meter freestyle and as a member of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay team, a group dubbed by the Swimming Hall of Fame as one of the greatest relay crews of all time. Arpad was a part of the legendary water polo team.
Sports were not top of mind, however, for the Hungarians in 1956. Soviet troops invaded their homeland during the course of the event. When the Olympics ended the entire team chose to defect. It was a dramatic decision made more complicated for the 42 among them, including Kati and Arpad, who sought political asylum in the United States. The quota for Hungarian emigrants in America had been filled and they were stuck in limbo in Australia.
Their luck finally changed after Sports Illustrated picked up the story. The President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, read the article and arranged for the athletes to enter the country. He even ordered a Pan American Clipper to pick them up. Once they arrived in America, the Olympians went on a three-month Freedom Tour to different states to raise money for Hungarian Refugees.
By 1957, Kati and Arpad both chose to make Los Angeles their home. Four years later, the couple got married and became the embodiment of the American dream. As twenty-somethings, they started their professional careers and worked hard. Katherine was employed by a bank and did some modeling on the side while Arpad became a draftsman in an architect’s office. Over time he added builder to his resume, working on a plot of land with an acquaintance. Flash forward to the 1970s, Arpad transformed his experience and became the head of a large property development company.
The Domyans enjoyed life to the fullest. They spent summers on the Côte d’Azur. Many nights out they attended the Los Angeles Opera. It was one of several arts organizations, the couple generously supported. Others included the Blue Ribbon 400 and the American National Theatre Organization (ANTA). There were dinners at the White House during the Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. administrations.
In an interview Arpad gave Nicholas Foulkes for Bonhams magazine he succinctly described their lives as including “a lot of black tie.” One very special occasion took place in 1985 when Arpad threw a formal party for Kati to celebrate her induction into the Swimming Hall of Fame at the beloved L’Orangerie restaurant in West Hollywood. At countless parties, they mingled with movie stars including their friend, fellow Hungarian, Zsa Zsa Gabor and legendary actor Sir Laurence Olivier.
Kati Domyan always looked spectacular at social occasions sparkling in her glamorous jewels. The pieces in her collection were acquired from the 1970s through the 2000s. Most of the jewels were made by American designers. It was a subtle hat tip from the couple to the nation they came to call home. One of Kati’s favorite places to shop for her bold daytime and cocktail jewels was David Webb. “Every time we went to New York, which was quite frequently, the first stop she made was to David Webb,” recalled Arpad.
Her 36 pieces of Webb in the Bonhams auction include the iconic animal bracelets that can be found in so many women of style’s collections including Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Vreeland. The famous Vogue editor-in-chief had the same type of zebra bracelet Katherine owned. The former swimmer also loved the cool look of Webb’s crystal pieces and gold and enamel designs. One of her most dazzling Webb jewels was an emerald and diamond fringe necklace.
Highlights from Kati’s formal jewels include an Art Deco ruby a diamond bracelet from Van Cleef & Arpels New York. The piece, made in the later half of the Deco movement, is as bold as can be. It is punctuated with geometric shaped diamonds and Burmese rubies.
Another stellar vintage piece in the collection is a sculptural starfish clip by the celebrated Hollywood jeweler Paul Flato. The arms of the starfish are articulated and gently move at the touch. It is set with round brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds. Kati wore the piece as a clip and on a fitted platinum bangle made by Van Cleef & Arpels in New York.
The most extravagant diamond jewels in Kati Domyan’s collection came from the great American jeweler Harry Winston. An impressive 23.13-carat emerald cut diamond ring with trillion shaped side stones is among the pieces at Bonhams. She also, of course, had the two diamond necklaces made in 1984.
The choker length Winston jewel had 66.20-carats of round brilliant, pear-shape and marquise diamonds set in platinum. The longer necklace has 83.60-carats of round brilliant and pear-shape diamonds in platinum.
It’s easy to understand why the necklaces layered together were so memorable for her son Bryan. There is no doubt the look of the legendary swimmer Kati Domyan in these jewels, and others in her collection, left an unforgettable impression of great style on everyone who saw her.
Previews of Katherine Domyan’s collection will be in Los Angeles from September 5th to the 10th, Geneva on September 11 and 12 and New York from September 16 to the 19. The sale will take place at Bonhams New York on September 21.
Please Note: During the preview in Los Angeles, there will also be a special exhibition about the life and jewelry collection of Katherine Domyan. This will include a chance to see Katherine’s Olympic gold medals. Private walk throughs are available by appointment. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This post was created in partnership with our friends at Bonhams.