Spring 2017 Auction Updates: The Most Expensive Gem Ever and Other Records

The 59.60 ct mixed-cut oval CTF Pink star diamond is displayed on a woman’s hands. It is wider than her ring finger.
When it sold for $71 million (£55 million) at Sotheby’s in April, the GIA-graded 59.6 ct. Chow Tai Fook Pink Star became the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

The spring 2017 auction season saw two important price records fall and solid, if not rising, prices for top gems across the board

In April, the news was the Pink Star, the 59.60 carat (ct) GIA-graded Fancy Vivid pink diamond that sold for $71.2 million (£55.4 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, setting the record for the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction. The diamond is a record-holder in itself, being the largest-known Fancy Vivid pink diamond. Its appearance on the block sent bloggers and reporters into action around the world.

The diamond was originally named the Steinmetz Pink, after the firm that purchased and cut the 132.5 ct rough. After it was unveiled in 2003, the stone was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution with six other extraordinary fancy colour diamonds

The diamond was sent to Sotheby’s in the autumn of 2013 where it achieved a top bid of $83 million (£65 million) from a New York diamond cutter. This was nearly double the previous record – which was held by a different pink diamond bought by London jeweller Laurence Graff in 2011. After several months, however, the buyer was unable to pay for it, so the diamond was returned to the auction house’s vault until this year.

Bidding on the pink gem was spirited until it approached the $70 million (£54 million) mark, when Hong Kong retail giant Chow Tai Fook offered the winning amount and announced it was renaming it the Pink Star.

While news reports noted the world record price for a gemstone, the diamond’s per-carat price, $1.2 million (£900,000), was actually well under the prevailing market price for similar rare coloured diamonds. 

The similarly graded 24.78 ct Graff pink sold for $46 million (£36 million) in 2011 at $1.85 million (£1.44 million) per carat. The previous price record holder, the 14.62 ct Fancy Vivid blue Oppenheimer Blue diamond, brought $57 million (£44 million) in 2015, for $3.93 million (£3.05 million) per carat – still below the world record price per carat. Both were also graded by GIA. 

That record is held by the 12.03 ct Blue Moon diamond, graded by GIA, which sold in 2015 for $48.4 million (£37.7 million), or $4.01 million (£3.12 million) per carat.

The Rockefeller Emerald is an 18.04 ct octagonal step-cut emerald set in a ring and flanked by diamonds.
Provenance, along with a lack of inclusions, helped the 18.04 ct Rockefeller Emerald achieve a record per-carat price of $304,000 (£237,000) at Christie’s in June. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images

Had the per-carat price of the Pink Star diamond equalled the world record, the hammer would have come down on a bid of $239 million (£186 million). 

The 18.04 ct Rockefeller Emerald broke the second important record by achieving the highest per-carat amount – $305,000 (£237,000) – for that variety of gemstone. The gem, which was sold for $5.5 million (£4.3 million) by Christie’s on 20 June, was exceptionally free of the fissures found in most emeralds

First purchased by Harry Winston, the emerald was named after John D. Rockefeller Jr., who acquired the stone in 1930 for his wife, Abby. After she died 18 years later, their son, David Rockefeller had the emerald set into a ring by designer Raymond Yard.  

The previous record price for an emerald was Elizabeth Taylor’s Bulgari emerald and diamond brooch, which sold for $280,000 (£218,000) per carat.

The Apollo and Artemis diamonds, twin fancy coloured diamonds of 14.54 cts and 16 cts, respectively, sold for $57 million (£44 million) at Sotheby’s in May. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Other highlights of the season included an interesting “mismatched” set of ear-pendants offered by Sotheby’s on 16 May. One contains the 16 ct GIA-graded Fancy Intense pink Artemis diamond and the other the 14.54 ct GIA-graded Fancy Vivid blue Apollo diamond. The set sold for a total of $57 million (£44 million): $15.3 million (£11.9 million) for the pink ($958,000/£746,000 per carat) and $42.1 million (£32.7 million) for the blue ($2.9 million/£2.3 million per carat). 

The 92 carat D flawless heart-shaped diamond is displayed next to a jeweler’s loupe and tweezers.
The 92 ct La Legende, the costliest heart shaped diamond to sell at auction, drew a winning bid of $14.98 million at Christie’s in May. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images

Christie’s also sold the GIA-graded 92 ct D-flawless La Legende diamond for $14.98 million (£11.66 million) in May. While this was a record price for a heart-shaped diamond, its per-carat price of $163,000 (£127,000), fell well below that of other, similarly graded diamonds. The record per-carat price for a D-flawless diamond is $283,000 (£220,000).  

While this season saw fewer records fall and prices slightly below that of previous auction seasons, it must be noted that prices often fluctuate wildly at this extreme high level – buyers are exceptionally picky, especially those who buy for investment reasons, and the presence or absence of a single well-heeled bidder can make a huge difference in the hammer price. 

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.