Secret Lives of the Super Rich

Stradivari violin expected to fetch millions at Christie's

Heiress's multi-million dollar violin up for auction

One of the rarest and priciest violins in the world was hidden away in a closet for decades, but it is now up for auction at Christie's, with bidding starting Friday.

"Our presale estimate on this is $7.5 million to $10 million," said Kerry Keane, head musical instrument specialist at Christie's, which is hosting the sealed-bid auction. Bidding will go on until June 12.

Part of why this violin is so valuable is its provenance. The violin was made in 1731 by Antonio Stradivari, considered to be the greatest violin maker ever. His 600 surviving violins are highly sought by collectors, giving them multimillion-dollar price tags.

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The violin up for auction is known as the Kreutzer Stradivarius, named for its first-known owner, Rodolphe Kreutzer.

If you learned to play the violin, you can likely thank Kreutzer, a French violinist and teacher, who penned the 42 Etudes, a commonly used foundation for teaching students to play the instrument. Jack Benny often used a Kreutzer etude in his violin schticks.

Kreutzer Stradivari
Source: Christie's

Eventually, the violin came to be owned by reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who received it from her parents.

"There is a spectacular telegram that her parents sent her in Paris in 1920 that told her ... when they were sailing and when they would be arriving in New York, and that her mother had just bought her, quote unquote, the most fabulous violin in the world," Keane said.

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The violin is one of more than 400 items from the family collection that Christie's is auctioning. It was found in Clark's closet after collecting dust for decades, according to Keane.

Detail of Kreutzer Stradivari
Source: Christie's

This violin is from Stradivarius' late period. "What's important about his later works is that they're the ones that are consistently the most powerful for players tonally. It has this warm gutsy sound that they produce, and with great color and complexity for the musician," Keane said.

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To ensure that the violin is the real deal, Christie's analyzed the ring growths in its wood, a process known as dendrochronology.

"We did a dendrochronology of it. It matches four Stradivaris from 1730 to 1734 made from the same tree. That is a great find. It's like a fingerprint," Keane said.

(Huguette Clark, pictured above, poses in a Japanese print dress at about age 37. Source: The Estate of Huguette M. Clark, from the book "Empty Mansions." The New York Times best-selling biography "Empty Mansions," co-authored by NBC News Investigative reporter Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr., focuses on the reclusive heiress' life story, her personal fortune valued at over $300 million and the mystery surrounding her many estates that remained empty for much of her adult life. Photos of the Clark family have been provided courtesy of Dedman.)

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