By Isabelle Kellogg in New York
A cross and ring belonging to Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), both heavily embellished with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, is being offered for sale by M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans as Holy Week approaches.
The cross, which is intricately carved in the Edwardian style and measures 7in in length, is set in yellow gold with 60 carats of diamonds and is valued at US$1.25 million. The ring is set in platinum with a 13 carat white diamond in the centre and is valued at US$650,000. Both pieces of jewelry are engraved with the Christian Chi Ro symbol, which indicates that they were most probably made by Vatican jewellers in the early 1900s using existing gemstones from the Vatican's collection.
The cross has 12 main diamonds totaling over 60 carats. Smaller old-mine cut white diamonds ranging in weight from 8.66 carats to 3 carats decorate the front of the cross, nestled between scrolls and leaves filled with Columbian emeralds. The diamonds are all VVS and VC clarity.
The ring's design is much more modern. The centre stone is surrounded by a halo of 14 smaller diamonds. On either side of the ring, diamonds decorate the two squares while a cross is picked out in rubies.
According to documents provided by the Vatican, Pope Paul VI made an historic visit to the UN to address the General Assembly in 1965 and requested that these two jewels be auctioned, with the proceeds going to human relief funds. The auction did indeed take place in November 1967, handled by Parke-Bernet - the largest fine art auction house in the US - before the cross and ring were acquired by Sotheby's.
A Chicago jeweller, Harry Levinson, bought both pieces for US$64,000, which was divided between four UN agencies. After that, the pieces were bought and sold several times, and at one point were owned by daredevil Evel Knievel.