Grand Dukes & Diamonds

In his first book since the acclaimed "The Golden Oriole", Raleigh Trevelyan tells the story of one of the world's most fascinating families, the Wernhers of Luton Hoo.

The family fortune was made by Sir Julius Wernher, the financier and mining magnate who was one of the creators of modern South Africa.

Self-effacing and cautious, he was the perfect partner for the brilliant Alfred Beit, and together they made a vast fortune.

Both were generous philanthropists; Wernher was also a collector and he acquired Luton Hoo, a country house in Bedfordshire, to house his magnificent collection.

Luton Hoo was eventually inherited by Sir Harold Wernher and his wife Lady Zia.

Their marriage in 1917 had been a sensation :
she was the daughter of Grand Duke Michael of Russia and a direct descendant of Push kin ; he was probably the wealthiest bachelor in England.

At Luton Hoo they displayed her priceless collection of Fabergé, and together they ran a racing stud at Newmarket.

Three of their racehorses, Brown Jack, Meld and Charlottown, became legends in their time.

Sir Harold Wernher played a crucial role during the Second World War as Co-ordinator of the Mulberry Harbours at D-Day.

Lady Zia was related to virtually every royal family in Europe, and the Wernhers were particularly close to the Mountbattens and to Prince Philip, who was -and is- a frequent guest at Luton Hoo.
Based on unrestricted access to the Wernher papers, Grand Dukes and Diamonds charts the history of one of the most influential and extraordinary families of our time.
 In connection with my Julius Wernher researches, I [Raleigh Trevelyan] must thank :
Comtesse Vital de Gontaut-Biron (granddaughter of Jules Porgès),
Mr and Mrs Martin Green (Porgès relatives)

The book contains many references to Jules Porgès and his family.
The relevant chapters are listed below and fully available on a click.
For your comfort, it is suggested that you print each chapter for off-line reading.


The Young Julius
... Then, in 1869, he [Julius Wernher]insisted on going to Paris to perfect his French, in spite of his mother's fears that his tendency to overwork would harm his eyes. He did work very hard, again in a bank, Ephrussi Porgès, and preferred studying at night to those "notorious" temptations of Paris in which some of his German friends indulged. He greatly impressed his employer Théodore Porgès, and this was later to stand him in very good stead, in an unexpected way. Porgès was Jewish, supposedly of Portuguese Sephardic descent, and had emigrated from Bohemia to Vienna and then to Paris.
Life in the Diamond Fields
... Julius had had another warm letter from Porgès, making it clear that he would be in charge when Mège left in 1873 and that he would be permitted to purchase further groups of claims. Porgès, Julius told his father, had "earned terrifically" and might even consider retiring in a few years' time.

Turn of the Tide
In 1875 Porgès was the largest importer of Cape diamonds in London and had 30,000 invested in the business. Sir Charles Warren, who had travelled out on the same ship as Porgès, the SS Danube, was to write of the "magnificent Porgès who knows the value of money though he has plenty of it". And photographs of Porgès do show an amiable face, with a big moustache and hair parted down the middle.

"Centre of Important Interests"
All his plans for return had to be postponed because of dramatic new developments, namely Porgès's imminent formation in Paris of the Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap de Bonne Espérance, with a capital of 560,000. It took place in 1880 and was the first Kimberley-based joint-stock company to be floated in Europe.

Farewell to Kimberley

"Duties and Cares of the Sterner Sex"
Jules Porgès
's sister-in-law, Mathilde, the wife of Julius Wernher's first employer, Théodore Porgès, had been born a Weisweiller, related to the wife of Baron Henri de Rothschild, and she in turn was "Natty" (Lord) Rothschild's niece by marriage. Madame Théodore Porgès's father, Baron de Weisweiller, represented Rothschilds in Madrid. In the great Jewish cousinhood there were other connections through the Ephrussis, the Cohens and the Helberts. The Weisweillers had originally put up money for Théodore Porgès's firm, and perhaps Jules Porgès's diamond business. Mathilde married Théodore in 1876 and died in the famous Bazaar de la Charité fire in Paris. Théodore died, aged sixty-five, in 1907.

The Politics of Gold
Predictably, collapse and panic were to follow later in the year. This may have been anticipated by Porgès, who had by then already made the sensational decision to retire from the firm. Perhaps he felt that the empire was becoming altogether too complex and unwieldy. Perhaps, as seems possible, he was worried about his health. Or perhaps, as one would almost prefer to think, he simply decided that he had made enough money and wanted to enjoy it and invest some of it in works of art. Madame Porgès certainly wanted him to build a palace that could compete with the chateaux of the French aristocracy. After all he was still only fifty-one. As it happened, he was to live on well into his eighties, which was much more than could be said of most of his colleagues. He has been regarded as one of the most significant figures in the early development of South Africa's wealth, but even now is thought of as "shadowy". Yet it is not quite true that he "simply disappeared into private life". He kept up several interests in Africa, and was partner in syndicates with Kann and Michel Ephrussi which co-operated with the Corner House. Meanwhile the firm of Jules Porgès and Company was reconstituted on 1 January 1890 under the name of Wernher Beit, the partners being Julius Wernher, Alfred Beit, Max Michaelis and Charles Rube.
The hand-over was no gift though. Porgès took with him 750,000 in cash and 1 million in shares. A further 500,000 was deposited with Wernher, Beit, to be paid over the next two years. Wernher, Beit was left with 1 million in cash, diamonds and non-speculative investments, and around 2 million in shares and interests of a non-speculative nature.
Gold into Art
Jules Porgès also had a fine collection, chiefly of Dutch and eighteenth-century paintings, at his sumptuous mansion in Paris, 18 Avenue Montaigne.
War Clouds

Forward to La Belle Epoque

Russian Grand Dukes, Marcel Proust and exotic figures such as Calouste Gulbenkian had been at the Paris opening [of the Ritz in Paris] , and so had Jules Porgès, who with Wernher, Beit had been part of the syndicate that had put up the money for César Ritz to launch his international chain of hotels. Very likely the Wernhers had also been present.
No doubt it was the socially ambitious Madame Porgès who had had the idea of employing Mewès to build a gigantic Château at Rochefort-en-Yvelines outside Paris.
For the Porgèses were moving into the aristocracy, their only daughter and child having married the Marquis de la Ferté-Meun ; a niece married a Prince Borghese of Rome, and other nieces a French Count and a Belgian Viscount respectively. This extraordinary building was inspired by the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur, with a peristyle and a cupola, and was perched above a waterfall that tumbled through a terraced garden. It is now a golf club.

Jules Porgès lost some of his fortune as a result of the First World War, having deposited it in Viennese banks. This meant selling the Château and objets d'art. He died in 1921, aged eighty-three.

South Africa Again : Metamorphosis at Luton Hoo

PORGES, Jules (1838-1921)

Mining magnate. Born in Prague, settled in Paris in the 1860s and became a leading diamond merchant.
Both Alfred Beit and Sir Julius Wernher worked for him and were sent by him to Kimberley.
He himself arrived there in 1875 and became a successful operator in shares, claims and stones, later extending operations (establishing the firm of H. Eckstein) to the Witwatersrand in 1887.
In 1880 he returned to Europe.
He retired from business in 1889, but long outlived both Beit and Wernher.

Sir Julius Charles WERNHER (1850-1912) Julius Wernher

Mining magnate.
Born in Darmstadt, Germany, where his father was attached to the Grand-Ducal court, he entered a London bank as a learner, served in the Prussian cavalry in the Franco-German War of 1870-1871, and, like Alfred Beit, took a post in Paris with Jules Porges.

sent him to Kimberley, where he was elected to the Mining Board and soon gained wealth and prominence. After the discovery of the Rand he extended his operations to the Transvaal.
In 1888 he became one of the four original 'Life Governers' of De Beers Consolidated Mines.
He settled in London as Porges' partner and, when the latter retired in 1889, continued operations under the name of Wernher, Beit andCo., the largest mining house in South Africa, if not in the world, controlling the Rand Mines group and other huge interests.
Apart from occasional visits to South Africa, he spent the rest of his life in England.
A noted art collector, he died, leaving the largest South African fortune on record - over 11 000 000.

Alfred BEIT (1853-1906)
Alfred Beit
Capitalist and co-founder with Cecil Rhodes of Southern Rhodesia.
Born in Hamburg in the same year as Rhodes, of an old Jewish family.
He learnt the diamond trade under Jules Porges in Amsterdam and elsewhere. In 1875 he went to Port Elizabeth on behalf of his cousins, the Lipperts, who sent him to Kimberley as their representative.
There he came into touch with Julius Wernher and with Cecil Rhodes.
Attaining considerable prosperity as a diamond merchant, he became a member of the firm of Jules Porges and Co., and on the retirement of Porges, he and Wernher converted this firm in 1884 to Wernher, Beit and Co. Returning to England he joined forces with Rhodes in his efforts to amalgamate the diamond mines, which resulted in the foundation of De Beers.
A Life Governor of De Beers, he was one of the principal figures in the foundation of the Chartered Company and in the first efforts to open up Rhodesia. Wernher, Beit and Co. presently became leaders in Barberton and then in the Witwatersrand gold industry.
Beit visited Rhodesia in the very early days, but kept his headquarters in London. Unlike Rhodes, he did his utmost to keep out of politics, though his friendship with him remained undiminished, and he was one of the main trustees and heirs under his will.
Upon Alfred Beit's death the Beit Trust came into existence. He also bequeathed enormous sums for university education and research in South Africa, Rhodesia, Britain and Germany.