Top Ten Most Expensive Jewels Sold At Auction


I love lists and what’s better than a list of the 10 most expensive jewelry pieces sold at auction.

No. 10 – The Empress Eugenie Brooch – sold for $10.5 million – April 22nd, 2008

No. 10 – The Empress Eugenie Brooch – $10.5 million – April 22nd, 2008 – via Christie’s

Lot Description from Christie’s:

Designed as an old mine and old European-cut diamond openwork sculpted bow, suspending two rose, old mine and old European-cut diamond tassels and five articulated graduated old mine-cut diamond cascades set en pampille, mounted in silver-topped gold, circa 1855, 9 x 4½ ins., with maker’s mark, (pin detachable with screw back), in a red leather fitted case, inscribed “Diamants de La Couronne de France”
By François Kramer

No. 9 – The Vivid Pink, by Graff – $11.8 million – December 1st, 2009

No. 9 – The Vivid Pink, by Graff – $11.8 million – December 1st, 2009 – via Christie’s

Lot Description from Christie’s:

Set with a cushion-shaped fancy vivid pink diamond weighing 5.00 carats, flanked on either side by a shield-shaped diamond, mounted in platinum and 18k rose gold, ring size 5

Signed Graff
Accompanied by report no. 12956371 dated 23 July 2009 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the 5.00 carat diamond is fancy vivid pink, natural colour, VS1 clarity; with a working diagram indicating that the clarity is potentially flawless

Also accompanied by a supplemental letter from the Gemological Institute of America stating the 5.00 carat diamond has been determined to be a type IIa pink diamond. Type IIa pink diamonds are very rare in nature, often have relatively few inclusions and are noted for their mostly homogenous colour in the rough. Unlike many other coloured diamonds, the colour in pink diamonds can not only be caused by impurities, but it may also be a result of the diamond’s exposure to heat and pressure during transportation into the earth’s crust. Type IIa pinks have been found in a number of mining regions around the world. Historically they were found in India (particularly from the Golconda region) and, in more recent times, most notably from Brazil and Africa.

Among famous gem diamonds, the 70.39 carat Empress Rose and the 28.15 carat Agra are examples of type IIa pinks

No. 8 – The Sun-Drop Diamond – $12.3 million – November 15th, 2011

No. 8 – The Sun-Drop Diamond – $12.3 million – November 15th, 2011 – via Sotheby’s

Lot Description from Sotheby’s:

The largest known Fancy Vivid Yellow pear-shaped diamond at 110.03 carats.

Setting the “Vault Gallery” Ablaze in London

The Sun-Drop was unveiled to the world at London’s Natural History Museum where it was exhibited in the famous ‘Vault Gallery’ from February through August  2011. The world’s press along with guests including Jerry Hall, pictured left, were thrilled to view such a rare and beautiful diamond.  Historically significant with regard to its size and colour, Alan Hart, head of collections for the Mineralogy Department, was delighted to display such a stone.  “When you look at a diamond like this”, he stated in the Museum’s press release, “you are not only looking at a unique piece of art, you are looking at the fascinating science that brought this stone to us.  The Sun-Drop diamond was formed deep within the Earth’s crust 1-3 billion years ago.  As it grew, it incorporated nitrogen into its carbon crystal structure.  It is these nitrogen impurities that give the diamond its yellow colour as they modify light, absorbing the blue part of the visible spectrum.  The diamond then travelled on a long journey upwards in a slushy rock magma.  After it was found within a kimberlite pipe (a type of volcanic rock), it was expertly studied and cut, bringing the diamond to life.”

The below is an excerpt from the GIA Monograph – The Sun-Drop Diamond – 2011, Gemological Institute of America, Inc.

The mystique of yellow diamonds is nothing new.  They have long been recognized and prized among collectors.  In 1676, French traveler and gem dealer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier mentioned seeing a large 137.27 carat yellow diamond he referred to variously as the “Florentine,” the “Austrian Yellow,” and the “Grand Duke of Tuscany” in descriptions of several famous diamonds he encountered during his travels in India.
For diamonds, a large crystal displaying a notable strength of color is quite a rarity.  Accordingly, a sizable fashioned gem with a strong color is even more unusual given the paucity of rough material.  In fact, polished diamonds over 100 carats of any color, weak or strong, are quite uncommon.  Given these considerations, the impressiveness of the 110.03 carat Fancy Vivid Yellow Sun-Drop comes into sharp focus.

With its large size and strikingly rich color, the Sun-Drop possesses a commanding presence sure to capture the attention and imagination of all who view it.  While gazing at such a diamond, we must wonder what its future will hold.  It can surely rank already with the historic diamonds of the past, and we can only wait for the Sun-Drop’s story to be revealed.

Colour Grading The Sun-Drop: for fancy-color diamonds, color far outweighs the other “Cs” (clarity, cut, and carat weight) when establishing value.  Therefore, it is critical to understand color appearances and how they affect color grades and descriptions.

Accurately describing color in diamonds is no simple task, given the wide range of possible hues. Furthermore, variations in brilliance and bright-dark contrast patterns also complicate the assessment.  In 1995, GIA refined its color grading system, adding grades to better define rare depths of color that were not commonly seen in years past.  With the addition of Fancy Vivid, GIA was able to highlight these rare, highly saturated diamonds in all hues.  Since that time, very few diamonds passing through the Lab earn this distinction.  In a 1998 sampling of yellow diamonds, GIA noted that only 4% were graded Fancy Vivid, regardless of size.  Similarly, a 2003 sampling indicated that only 6% received a grade of Fancy Vivid.  This already small quantity is reduced to a mere fraction as size increases.  Few people will ever see such an opulent color in a diamond the size of the Sun-Drop.”

No. 7 – Wallis Simpson’s Cartier Panther Bracelet – $12.4 million – November 30th, 2010

No. 7 – Wallis Simpson’s Cartier Panther Bracelet – $12.4 million – November 30th, 2010 – via Sotheby’s

Catalogue Notes & Provenance from Sotheby’s:  

Cartier’s celebrated ‘Great Cat’ jewels were inspired by Jeanne Toussaint, (1887-1978), whose association with the firm began in 1915.  The cats are among her most famous animal jewels.  Jeanne was an intimate companion of Louis Cartier, (1874-1942), by whom she was affectionately known as ‘Pantherè.  She indulged her passion for the animal by scattering her apartment in Paris with animal skins and jewelled objects decorated with panthers.  In 1933 she became responsible for the Haute-Joaillerie of the firm by Louis Cartier, and soon afterwards began conferring with the Duke of Windsor on many jewellery projects.

Jeanne Toussaint oversaw the whole panther range collaborating with the firm’s designers, most notably Peter Lemarchand, (1906–1970).  He established the panther silhouette in the 1940s and subsequently the appearance of lifelike panther and tiger jewels in every sort of pose.  Lemarchand was very quick at putting his ideas onto paper.  He would visit the zoo at Vincennes to draw the cats from life, studying their distinctive feline movement and physical structure.

The first three-dimensional panthère brooch made in the Cartier workshops was created for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1948.  It depicted a gold panther decorated with black enamel spots outstretched on a cabochon emerald, weighing 116.74 carats, which was from the Duke’s own collection of stones, (Lot 55 from 2nd April 1987 auction at Sotheby’s).  Other well known owners of ‘cat‘ jewels include Barbara Hutton, Princess Nina Aga Khan and Daisy Fellowes.

The Duchess of Windsor had several ‘cat’ jewels in her collection which began with the emerald brooch in 1948 and this particular area of her collection was continued to be added to over the next nearly twenty years.  In 1949 the Duke purchased a panther clip with sapphire spots seated on a Kashmir cabochon sapphire weighing 152.35 carats.  This particular onyx and diamond bracelet in the form of an outstretched panther was purchased from Cartier in December 1952; the sale is recorded unusually as being by the Duchess herself and not to their very good client S.A.R Le Duc de Windsor.  The most striking thing about this piece is not only the realistic design but its supple highly articulated linking allowing it to move very elegantly; the matching brooch to this jewel was not purchased until 1966.  Other cat jewels included an unusual pair of lorgnettes, the handle designed as a tiger with a raised paw which was purchased in 1954.  A pair of Cartier tiger jewels set with onyx and fancy yellow diamonds in the form of a bracelet was acquired in 1956 and the matching clip in 1959.

No. 6 – Katharina Henckel Von Donnersmarck’s Emerald and Diamond Tiara – $12.7 million – May 17th, 2011

No. 6 – Katharina Henckel Von Donnersmarck’s Emerald and Diamond Tiara – $12.7 million – May 17th, 2011 – via Sotheby’s

Literature from Sotheby’s:  

This magnificent emerald and diamond tiara is possibly the most important to have appeared at auction in over 30 years – since in fact it was sold at Sotheby’s Zurich in 1979. It is also probably the grandest tiara to exist outside Royal, State and museum collections.

When this tiara was first offered at auction at Sotheby’s in Zurich, on 15th November 1979, lot 823, the catalogue footnote stated that family tradition linked the eleven pear-shaped emerald drops to the French Imperial Crown Jewels. In Paris in 1887, seventeen years after the fall of the monarchy, the French government sold the Crown Jewels at public auction. Despite the fact that Empress Eugénie adored emeralds, there were very few jewels set with emeralds in the illustrated catalogue of the sale, and none set with stones similar to the pear-shaped drops of this tiara. However, in 1872, the sale of Empress Eugénie private collection of jewels had included 25 polished emerald drops. An annotated copy of the sale catalogue is held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where the buyer of each lot is identified. At the time of the sale no one single buyer bought sufficient emerald drops to create this tiara, but it is entirely possible that at a later stage a group of 11 emeralds originally purchased at the 1872 sale, was put together to crown this superb jewel commissioned by Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck for his second wife Katharina Wassilievna de Slepzoff. The Imperial provenance of the stones would have been a perfect fit to the grandeur of the commission and the status of the Donnersmarcks: as it is known Count Henckel von Donnersmarck also bought Empress Eugénie’s pearls for his wife La Païva through two different agents on the occasion of their marriage in 1871.

The eleven exceptionally rare emerald drops are truly outstanding Colombian specimens of superb colour and size. They would originally have been drilled and polished in India, probably during the 17th or 18th century, and would almost certainly, have adorned the neck of a Maharaja.

The tiara is not signed and does not bear any mark, however in quality of design and manufacture, it is in line with the best creations of the great Parisian Maisons of the time. Boucheron and Chaumet were the favoured jewellers of fin de siècle European nobility and the Henckel von Donnersmarck were patrons of both firms. Chaumet in particular, in 1896,  had been commissioned by Count Henckel von Donnersmarck to produce a crown of diamond leaves and ribbons which could be surmounted by five emeralds or pearls, and is entirely possible that the same firm created the  tiara offered here, with its line of laurel leaves, swags and lily-of-the-valley motifs.

 No. 5 – The Bulgari Blue – $15.7 million – October 20th, 2010

No. 5 – The Bulgari Blue – $15.7 million – October 20th, 2010 – via Christie’s

Lot Description from Christie’s:

Set with a triangular-cut fancy vivid blue diamond, weighing approximately 10.95 carats, and a triangular-cut diamond, weighing approximately 9.87 carats, to the baguette-cut diamond half-hoop, mounted in gold, circa 1972, in an original BVLGARI black silk box

Article on The Bulgari Blue from Christie’s

No. 4 – The Martian Pink by Harry Winston – $17.4 million – May 29th, 2012

No. 4 – The Martian Pink by Harry Winston – $17.4 million – May 29th, 2012 – via Christie’s

Lot Description from Christie’s: 

Set with a brilliant-cut fancy intense pink weighing 12.04 carats, mounted in 18k gold, ring size 7

Accompanied by report no. 1132447626 dated 19 May 2011 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the 12.04 carat diamond is fancy intense pink, natural colour, VS1 clarity

Also accompanied by a supplemental letter from the Gemological Institute of America stating the 12.04 carat diamond has been determined to be type IIa, pure, with virtually no nitrogen in its crystal structure

 No. 3 – The Perfect Pink – $23.2 million – November 29, 2010

No. 3 – The Perfect Pink – $23.2 million – November 29, 2010 – via Christie’s

Lot Description from Christie’s: 

Set with a rectangular-shaped fancy intense pink diamond weighing 14.23 carats, flanked on either side by a rectangular-shaped diamond weighing 1.73 and 1.67 carats, mounted in 18k rose and white gold, ring size 5½

Accompanied by report no. 14432611 dated 16 May 2005 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the 14.23 carat diamond is fancy intense pink, natural colour, VVS2 clarity, with excellent symmetry

Accompanied by a note no. 1009543 dated 24 September 2010 from Gübelin Gemmological Laboratory stating that diamonds are classified into two fundamental groups based on the relative presence or absence of nitrogen incorporated into the crystal structure, as determined by the infrared spectrum. Type I diamonds contains appreciable concentrations of nitrogen, whereas type II diamonds are chemically very pure and do not reveal infrared absorption characteristics related to nitrogen. A further separation of these two groups includes type Ia (nitrogen atoms present in pairs or groups), type Ib (isolated nitrogen atoms), type IIa (no measurable traces of nitrogen) and type IIb (traces of boron). Based on its infrared spectrum, the diamond of 14.23 carats is classified as a type IIa diamond

Also accompanied by two reports no. 2125332554 dated 21 July 2010 and 17550927 dated 3 August 2010 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the 1.73 and 1.67 carat diamonds are D colour, internally flawless clarity

 No. 2 – The Wittelsbach Diamond – $24.3 million – December 10th, 2008

No. 2 – The Wittelsbach Diamond – $24.3 million – December 10th, 2008 – via Christie’s

Lot Description from Christie’s:

An historic cushion-shaped fancy deep grayish blue diamond weighing 35.56 carats to the plain mount (illustrated unmounted)
Accompanied by report no 17794002 dated 24 September 2008 from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) stating that the diamond is Fancy Deep Grayish Blue colour, VS2 clarity

Together with a Diamond Type Classification Report stating that the diamond is Type IIb and a letter from the Gemological Institute of America confirming the rarity and importance of this exceptional stone

No. 1 – The Graff Pink – $46.2 million – November 16th, 2010

No. 1 – The Graff Pink – $46.2 million – November 16th, 2010 – via Sotheby’s

Catalogue Notes & Provenance from Sotheby’s:

This stone is being offered for sale from a private collection. According to the consignor the stone has not appeared on the open market since it was first purchased some 60 years ago from Harry Winston himself.

This sublimely beautiful stone is without doubt one of the most important diamonds ever to appear at auction and its appearance is a major event in the world of fine gems.

All connoisseurs will agree that it displays the most perfect pure pink colour, which has been graded ‘fancy intense pink’ by the GIA with no secondary colour modifier. In addition the GIA state that the stone may be potentially flawless after polishing away some minor surface defects, which are mainly due to wear and the age of the stone.

This exceptional diamond has also been found to be part of the rare subgroup – comprising less than 2 % of all gem diamonds – known as type IIa: stones in this group are chemically the purest of all diamond crystals and often have extraordinary optical transparency.

What makes this diamond stand out as a truly rare gemstone however is the combination of this exceptional colour and purity with the classic emerald cut –  a style of cutting normally associated with white diamonds and immensely sought-after when found in the rare colours such as pink and blue. The shape is further enhanced by the gently rounded corners which impart a unique softness and charm to this truly outstanding gemstone.


The Romance of Pink Diamonds
By Ian Balfour

Historically, the most famous pink diamonds have come from India. Of these, pride and place must be given to the rectangular, step-cut ‘Darya-i-Nur’ (Sea of Light), one of the great diamonds of history. The ‘Darya-i-Nur’ is estimated to weigh between 175 and 195 carats. It is the principal gem in the Crown Jewels of Iran and together with the ‘Nur ul-Ain’ (Light of the Eye), an oval brilliant of around 60 carats, once constituted the major part of the ‘Great Table’ diamond. In 1642 Tavernier saw, and tried unsuccessfully to buy, this legendary stone from a merchant in Golconda.

Another historic Indian diamond is the ‘Agra’ which weighs just over 32 carats. Its early history links it with Babur, the first of the Mogul rulers. Later it came into the possession of the eccentric Duke of Brunswick, one of the 19th century’s most important collectors of unusual diamonds: he paid 348,000 francs for the gem. Towards the end of the century Edwin Streeter, the London jeweller and author of several books on gemstones, acquired the ‘Agra’. The Agra was sold at auction in London in 1990.

The ‘Hortense’, weighing 20.53 carats, is a somewhat flat, rectangular-shaped diamond which was listed in the 1691 inventory of the Crown Jewels of France. The gem is named after Hortense de Beauharnais, the Queen of Holland and stepdaughter of Napoleon. It was one of the jewels stolen from the Garde-Meuble in Paris in 1792 but was recovered a year later. On account of its historic interest the ‘Hortense’ was among the items excluded from the sale of the French Crown Jewels in 1887. The stone is now in the Louvre collection

The cushion-cut ‘Princie’ diamond, weighing 34.64 carats, may formerly have been part of the State jewels of Turkey. In 1960 it was sold at an auction in London: shortly after the stone was christened ‘Princie’ in honour of the fourteen-year-old son of the Maharanee of Baroda whose pet family name was ‘Princie’.

The most celebrated pink diamond is the ‘Williamson’. The rough stone was found in the Williamson Mine, situated near Mwadui in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in October 1947. Dr. John Williamson, the discoverer and owner of the mine, was an ardent Royalist so that he gave the diamond as a wedding present to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth. Curiously the ‘Williamson’ proved to be an isolated find, no other pink diamond having come form this source. The stone was cut in London into a brilliant of 23.60 carats, which was later set in the centre of a flower spray brooch. It is rumoured that the Queen has a special affection for this jewel: evidence of this is supplied by the fact that Her Majesty wore the brooch at the wedding of the Duke of Kent in 1961 and that of the Prince of Wales twenty years later. Since millions of viewers watched the latter ceremony on television it is safe to assume that no famous diamond has ever been seen by so many people at the same time.

And finally a cool infographic to illustrate the amazing facts about 5 of the aforementioned jewels – via the Three Graces, providers of vintage estate jewelry and antique engagement rings.

(This article was meant to be posted yesterday.)


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