Rapaport Magazine

Royals and Blues Bring in the Green

Christie’s London Jewelry Sale

By Ettagale Blauer
RAPAPORT... While the royal jewels on offer were meant to steal the show, it was a grayish blue diamond that held the spotlight, taking center stage at Christie’s June 13 sale in London. The 7.81-carat round diamond, estimated to bring $600,000 to $800,000, sold for more than six times the high estimate. A U.S. trade buyer saw something remarkable in the stone, paying a cool $5,119,312* for it, setting a world record price per carat for a blue diamond at auction.

In spite of the high prices paid for many diamond lots, the auction was intended to highlight the historic, reeking- with-provenance jewels of several members of European royalty, including HRH The Princess Royal, Maria Gabriella of Savoy, whose 41 lots were inherited from her mother, Her Majesty Queen Maria José of Italy. Provenance is often bandied about in auction catalogs, but this time around Christie’s was offering the real things. The remarkable cover lot, aptly called a “Magnificent Antique Diamond Tiara, by Fabergé,” circa 1895, was a virtual history lesson. Three briolettes suspended from the pointed arches had been a gift from Tsar Alexander I of Russia to the Empress Josephine. The tiara made its way around the royal houses of Europe before it was inherited by Queen Maria José and subsequently passed on to her daughter. The tiara was sold for $2,071,388, well over the presale estimate.

Royals, like everyone else, must pay their way in the world these days. In the catalog introduction, written by HRH Prince Michael of Greece, the reason for the sale of these remarkably historic as well as personal jewels was stated frankly. To meet the not inconsiderable burden of inheritance tax pertaining to her mother’s estate, the princess decided to sell some of the wonderful and rare jewels that she had inherited from her parents in order to preserve the remaining parts of the collection.

Among her treasured jewels was a fine antique turquoise and diamond parure, circa 1830. The elaborate set, comprising a necklace, a pair of bracelets, a pendant brooch and two additional pendants, was given to Princess Maria José as a wedding present by her parents. The set featured numerous oval turquoise and old-cut diamond clusters, spaced with six large diamonds that were made to be unscrewed. In addition, the bracelets had detachable clasps, enabling them to be put together and worn as a choker. The entire parure was sold for $236,640, nearly three times the high estimate.

For HRH Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, the reasons for selling 25 pieces of jewelry, including historic Russian works, were equally down to earth. A direct descendant of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, Princess Elizabeth came into possession of many jewels that were originally from the collection of her great-grandmother, HRH Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. In spite of her regal ancestry, the upheaval, first during the Russian revolution and more recently by her family’s loss of their property as well as their royal position, has left her with a sense that material possessions are ephemeral.

In an interview during a visit to New York, the princess said, “It’s time to unload. I am basically a minimalist. It doesn’t suit my lifestyle at all.” While it was noted that she wore one of the lots on offer, a diamond brooch by Cartier, as recently as the wedding of Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall in 2005, she says, “Those state occasions rarely happen anymore.” The brooch, estimated to bring $40,000 to $50,000, was sold for $70,920.

A diamond, pearl and enamel coin brooch by Fabergé, depicting Catherine the Great, was estimated to bring $8,000 to $12,000; it was sold for $82,740. The tremendous prices realized for the historic jewels are likely a reflection of newly wealthy Russians buying back their own patrimony. Following the sale, Princess Elizabeth said, “I hope some Russians bought the Imperial Russian things as that would show pride in their past and appreciation of beauty....I think they will treasure them.”

The extraordinary family history of the princess could be summarized in an historic royal miniature brooch by Koechli. The brooch depicted the portraits of her grandmother and grandfather when they were married in 1902. Estimated at $16,000 to $24,000, the brooch brought an astonishing $141,840.

Also from this royal collection of fine pieces was an emerald and diamond ring by Cartier. The 6.05-carat cabochon Colombian emerald, placed in a pavé-set diamond bezel, was estimated to bring $50,000 to $70,000. It was sold for $283,968.

Princess Elizabeth’s family life in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, ended when she was four years old. Educated mainly in South Africa and Kenya, she says, “My whole life was disruption.” As a result, she says, “I lost all connection to everything in my life. I have no connection to material things. It doesn’t bother me at all to sell these things.” She plans to use some of the proceeds to restore a monastery in Montenegro, recently independent but formerly part of Yugoslavia.

Among the lots she sold was a pair of black pearl and diamond ear pendants by Cartier. The pair sold for $224,808, three times the high estimate. A charming antique Russian diamond brooch shaped like a crown features two pear-shaped rose-cut diamonds believed to have come from the collection of Catherine the Great. It was sold for $30,732.


In addition to the royal jewels, the sale was filled with fine period jewelry, significant diamonds and colored gemstones. Highest price for a white diamond being auctioned was earned by an oval-shaped D, VVS2 stone weighing 19.08 carats, set in a diamond mount by Harry Winston. In addition to its famous maker, the stone had a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) certificate with a working diagram showing that it was potentially flawless — for anyone willing to destroy the provenance and put the stone back on the wheel. It sold for $1,651,747.

A stone of quite another color — more than one in fact — brought out the bidders with a vengeance. The lot, a rectangular-cut chameleon diamond weighing 11.22 carats and described as gray-yellowish green, VS1, was estimated to sell for $180,000 to $240,000. It was sold for $657,859 to an unidentified buyer.

A D-flawless, kite-shaped diamond, described as “portrait-cut,” was sold for $283,968, well above the high estimate. It was bought by a member of the European trade who had an eye for a remarkably limpid stone. The 10.06-carat diamond was suspended from a 1.34-carat pear-shaped diamond and set on a fine link neck chain.

The sales in London have become significant in the annual auction calendar. While this one was remarkable for the history and quality of the jewels on offer, Raymond Sancroft-Baker, director of Christie’s jewelry, London, notes that the city has once again become a magnet for an international clientele. “We have always been quite important in the antique sale context,” he notes, but now, he says, “There are a lot of Russians in London with a lot of money. With the Russian heritage items in the sale, there were Russian clients.” And, he added, “There is a strong demand for quality.”

Adding an amusing comment about the international trade, Sancroft-Baker says, “They like to come to London; they think everything comes out of an old lady’s vault.” But in at least one remarkable instance in this sale, they were correct: the blue diamond, he said, “came from an 84-year-old woman in Scotland.” Without a doubt, London is swinging again.

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2007. To subscribe click here.

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