Rapaport Magazine

Pink Power

The 24.78-carat pink made headlines around the world when it sold for $46 million and boosted an auction total to unseen heights for Sotheby’s Geneva

By Ettagale Blauer
RAPAPORT...  What can you say about a jewelry auction that tops $100 million? The superlatives simply pile up like a montage of dreamlike images. David Bennett, Sotheby’s chairman of the international jewelry division for Europe and the Middle East, summed it up with delight. November 16, the date of the Geneva auction, he said, “was undoubtedly the highlight of my career thus far. The sale broke several world records, including the highest price ever paid for a jewel or gemstone at auction, the highest value jewel sale ever and the highest price per carat for a fancy intense pink diamond, $1,862,739 per carat.”

That diamond — a 24.78-carat fancy intense pink in a modified emerald cut — was estimated to sell for $27 million to $38 million. It soared past that figure, achieving $46,158,674. The diamond was last on the market some 60 years ago when it was sold by Harry Winston, then known as the King of Diamonds. It was bought by the twenty-first century’s King of Diamonds, Laurence Graff, who immediately dubbed it “The Graff Pink” and pronounced it “the most fabulous diamond I’ve seen in the history of my career.” Graff was invisible during the sale, bidding through Patti Wong, Sotheby’s chairman in Asia.

Graff was hardly alone in his pursuit of the pink. According to Bennett, “four bidders competed vigorously from $25 million and the bids quickly mounted,” until the stone was sold. “Holding the hammer and selling the pink diamond was an immense pleasure,” he added.

Also at Sotheby’s

Beyond that astonishing single item, Sotheby’s sold an additional $58,893,054 worth of jewels and gems, a significant total for any jewelry auction. Buyers came from 30 countries representing four continents. Bennett said 59 percent of the lots exceeded their presale high estimates, showing great depth and strength of the market and of Sotheby’s ability to source and sell jewels. The large sale, comprising 487 lots, was 81.5 percent sold by lot and 93.7 percent sold by value.

In spite of the huge value of the pink diamond, which had its own catalog, as well as numerous other diamond lots, Sotheby’s chose classic invisibly set ruby flower jewels by Van Cleef & Arpels to grace the cover of the catalog. The graceful brooch, with its diamond-set pistil, fetched $426,135*, soaring above the $120,000 to $180,000 estimate. The matching earrings were equally impressive, selling for $329,355 over an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.

Four impressive diamond lots fetched well over two million dollars each. A fancy intense pink diamond weighing 4.59 carats, SI1, was sold for $2,814,163, well above the high estimate.

A square step-cut 20.16-carat DIF stone set in a ring signed by Graff was sold for $2,757,281, just above the low presale estimate. However, another white stone, a 20.18-carat square step cut in a ring by Harry Winston brought in $2,472,868, 50 percent over the high presale estimate. Rounding out the quartet was a diamond necklace and brooch. The necklace, set with a graduated line of 39 brilliant diamonds, included a 15.78-carat H color, VS2 center stone. The other stones ranged from G color down to L color, mostly VS1 and VS2. The lot was sold for $2,359,103. It was bought by the international trade and seemed ready-made to be broken up.


Sotheby’s wildly successful sale was followed the next day by Christie’s Geneva event. Nearly 200 lots smaller than Sotheby’s auction, the sale brought in $40,366,627, virtually on estimate, with three-quarters of the lots finding buyers. Christie’s event had a lovely “jewelry” feeling to it. Raymond Sancroft-Baker, European jewelry head for Christie’s, explained, “We were looking to do the history of jewelry, real jewelry, as opposed to large diamonds. We got a bit away from the core and we are trying to establish ourselves as the inventory of signed jewelry.” Sourcing signed period jewelry is more difficult than just filling a sale with high-value stones, but this sale featured a number of elegant jewels by the top names of the last century, including René Boivin, Georges Fouquet and Cartier, as well as lesser-known designers, including Lucien Gaillard.

The most significant such section was a 42-lot collection of jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, amassed by a private client. Among the lots was an invisibly set ruby and diamond flower brooch, dated 1954. This brooch had a more traditional look than the modern piece, made in 2000, offered at Sotheby’s and sold for $341,368. The presale estimate was $150,000 to $250,000. Given that VC&A is still making these pieces, it is remarkable how well their value has held up. The collection fetched a total of $3,005,647.

Christie’s top lot, an antique pear-shaped DIF type IIa diamond weighing 26.17 carats, suspended from a cushion-shaped diamond and dangling from a briolette diamond chain, was sold for $3,483,213, just over the low estimate of $3 million and far from the high estimate of $5 million.

An oval-shaped D, VVS1, 20.54-carat stone set in a ring fared much better, fetching $2,806,509 from a member of the U.S. trade. It was estimated to bring $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) report included a diagram indicating the clarity may be potentially IF, a huge incentive for a gutsy diamond dealer.

Christie’s efforts to return to an emphasis on jewelry paid off with two Sarpechs, or turban jewels. The first, set with six large diamonds totaling 70.30 carats as well as six rectangular emeralds and numerous small diamonds, was sold for $2,242,589, well over the presale high estimate of $1,500,000. It was also bought by the U.S. trade. The second such item, an all-diamond Sarpech, circa 1925, set with 17 principal diamonds weighing a total of 152.64 carats, as well as other smaller diamonds, could be worn as a brooch. It sold for $1,791,453, which was over the high estimate.

Truly extraordinary provenance could be found in an Art Deco diamond necklace by René Boivin, dated 1935, from the estate of Marie-Therese Nguyen Huu Thi Lan, the last Empress of Vietnam. The piece, with its classic scrolls of diamonds set all around, could be converted to form a tiara, ear clips, bracelet or brooches. The lot fetched $244,697, well above the presale estimate. It was one of a group of René Boivin pieces, charming examples of his ability to set small colored gemstones in intriguing designs taken from nature. A stylized Art Nouveau fringe necklace set with pearls and brown glass leaves by René Lalique, circa 1900, was sold for $329,284, more than four times the high estimate. Lalique pieces are highly sought after and rarely found at auction. 

This sale featured its own important colored gems, including a fancy intense orangy-pink SI1 diamond weighing 12.30 carats. The rectangular-cut stone was set in a ring. It sold just under the high estimate at $1,453,101. Two emeralds featured prominently in the sale. An octagonal–shaped Colombian emerald weighing 25.83 carats was sold for $1,042,245, well over the high estimate, while a recently mined, unmounted Muzo emerald, weighing 9.27 carats, in a classic emerald cut, was sold for $824,720. Sancroft-Baker noted, “It was one of the best new specimens to have come to the market in recent years.” It soared over the presale high estimate of $580,000.

With significant sales now taking place in London, Paris and other European venues, buyers have the opportunity to buy in their home markets, avoiding tax import duties. Taxes also have an impact on where jewelry will be offered. A consigner in London is best served by having the jewelry sold domestically, to a London-based client, for example. Buyers from Europe led the way in this sale, but enthusiastic bidding by Asians and Americans made this a truly global event. 

*All prices include buyer’s premium.


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2010. To subscribe click here.

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