An exceptional Burmese ruby ring, which once belonged to the last Queen of Italy, failed to sell at Sotheby’s auction.
The 8.48ct Burmese ruby ring once belonged to the last Queen of Italy, Maria-José, who together with her husband King Umberto, reigned for less than a month before the Italian monarchy was overthrown in 1946. The treasure was a wedding gift to the future queen in 1930 from her friend, the renowned Italian bibliophile and scholar Tammaro de Marinis who wrote the Biblioteca Napoletana.
After Italy became a republic, Queen Maria-José was exiled to Portugal and later moved to Switzerland where she lived until her death in 2001. An avid collector of jewellery, this ring featuring a non-heat treated ruby framed by diamonds was deemed to be a “very exceptional treasure” by the Swiss Gemmological Institute. It had a pre-sale estimate of $6-9 million when it appeared on the auction block this week.
The Queen Maria José Ruby Ring was formerly part of the personal jewellery collection belonging to the last Queen of Italy who died in 2001 at the age of 95. The ring was a wedding gift to the Belgian Princess from her friend, the renowned Italian bibliophile Tammaro de Marinis, on her marriage to Crown Prince Umberto in 1930.
Set with an incredible 8.48ct non-heat-treated Burmese ruby in the most sought after pigeon’s blood colour and framed by white diamonds, the exquisite ring has a pre-sale estimate of $6-9 million. If it sells for a sum near the top end of the estimate, it will go down in history as the second most expensive ruby in the world, ahead of the Graff ruby, which sold for $8.6m at Sotheby’s Geneva in November 2014. However, the 25.59ct Sunshine Ruby that fetched $30.3m at Sotheby’s jewellery auction in May this year still reigns supreme as the world record holder.
Admired the world over for her elegance and beauty, Princess Maria José of Belgium shared a passion for jewellery with her husband and, over her lifetime, amassed a collection that included jewels by the likes of Fabergé and Van Cleef & Arpels. She was crowned Queen in 1946 when Umberto succeeded his father as King but the pair reigned for less than a month before the Italian monarchy was abolished. Following a brief exile in Portugal, Queen Maria José separated from her husband and settled in Switzerland where she lived until her death. Rumours that she had an affair with Mussolini during World War II emerged in a letter written by the dictator’s son in 1971, but have never been substantiated as many archives from that period are still missing.
The ruby ring going under the hammer at Sotheby’s jewellery auction has been called a “very exceptional treasure” by the Swiss Gemmological Institute, which also said: “The rarity of this ring lies not only in the beauty, quality and Burmese origins of the ruby, but certainly also in its workmanship and well-documented historic provenance.”
A report from the Gemmological Institute of America concurred the rarity of the coloured gemstone: “Any Burmese ruby in excess of 5.00 carats is considered very rare today; thus in the 19th century, one such as this - being more than 8.00 carats and such a fine colour - would have been held as truly exceptional.”
David Bennett, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division, called the remarkable ruby “the perfect jewel for a queen” and went on to say that its historic and royal provenance will add enormously to the ring’s romantic appeal.
The highlight of the auction was, of course, the sale of the magnificent Blue Moon diamond for $48.5m, setting a new record for any diamond, gemstone or jewel ever sold at auction, both overall and per carat.