They say that an item’s value is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it. And when it comes to the most expensive jewelry sales in auction history, the figures reach such dizzying heights that they will make your head spin. The combination of awe-inspiring diamond jewelry, deep pockets and an adrenaline-fuelled auction room seems to provide the perfect catalyst for record-breaking price tags.
The carat-busting Oppenheimer Blue diamond ring set a new world record for any jewel sold at auction when it went under the hammer for a mighty $57.7 million in May 2016. Comfortably beating its pre-sale estimate of $38 million, the auction room at Christie’s Geneva erupted in applause as the final figure was announced. Named after its previous owner, Sir Philip Oppenheimer of De Beers, at 14.62ct it was the largest Fancy Vivid blue diamond to ever appear on the auction block.
Pink diamonds are amongst the rarest in the world, accounting for less than five per cent of all colored diamonds, which goes some way towards explaining the eye-watering price tags. According to the Fancy Color Research Foundation, in just over a decade the value of pink diamonds has soared by more than 350 per cent.
Colored diamonds are graded according to the intensity and saturation of hue, on a scale that runs from Fancy Light to Fancy Deep. This month the 24.18ct Cullinan Dream became the most expensive Fancy Intense blue diamond to ever sell at auction. Set in a platinum ring with baguette diamond side stones, the rectangular mixed-cut diamond fetched $25.4 million at Christie’s New York, making it look like a veritable bargain compared to the Oppenheimer Blue - or at least until you take a closer look at all those zeros.
And it’s not just diamonds that are emptying the wallets of jewelry connoisseurs. Colored gemstone jewelry is also achieving record-breaking sums at auction, with Burmese rubies, in particular, fetching vast sums. Weighing in at a whopping 25.59ct, the Sunrise Ruby ring set the bar when it sold for $30.3 million at Sotheby’s Geneva just over a year ago. Flanked by two white diamonds, the untreated “pigeon’s blood” Burmese ruby is set into a ring by Cartier and named after a poem written in the 13th century.
In April this year a 15.99ct oval-cut Burmese ruby ring, by renowned jeweler Verdura, went under the hammer for $14.16 million at Christie’s New York. It entered the record books as the most expensive colored gemstone to ever be sold at a US jewelry auction. The ruby, which is surrounded by circular-cut diamonds, hails from the famous Mogok Valley in Myanmar, Burma, and has a saturated color and natural fluorescence, that gives the coloured gemstone an irresistible inner light.
Bidders also queued up to get their hands on the aptly named Crimson Flame ruby, which set a new world record for price per carat, after fetching $18 million at Christie’s Hong Kong. The cushion-shaped 15.04ct unheated, Burmese ruby, boasting the most coveted “pigeon’s blood” color, has been set in the center of a ring, featuring a diamond surround, on a pavéd gold band. The sale further proved that the value of coloured gemstones is most definitely on the rise.
At The Jewellery Editor we love a jewel with an interesting backstory and it would appear that auction-goers share our fascination. Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most glamorous leading ladies of our time, and her love for fine jewelry is well documented. The La Peregrina necklace designed for the actress by Cartier ignited a fierce bidding battle at Christie’s New York in 2011 before selling for almost $12 million, nearly four times its pre-sale estimate, to make it the valuable pearl jewel in auction history. The pearl, ruby and diamond necklace features a historic 16th century pear-shaped La Peregrina pearl, bought by Richard Burton for $37,000 at an auction in 1969.
First discovered in the Gulf of Panama, this remarkable pearl of 203 grains in size – equivalent to 55 carats – was once owned by King Philip II of Spain before being passed on to the Spanish queens Margarita and Isabel, who wore it in portraits painted by Velázquez.
If money really were no object, which of these most expensive sales of jewelry in auction history would get your bid?