Rockefeller and Fancy Blues Highlight Spring 2018 Auctions

A large blue pear-shaped diamond hangs from a colourless and pink diamond.
This 8.01 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond pendant, mounted by Moussaieff of London, drew a top bid of over $20.4 million (£15.4 million) at Christie’s 29 May Hong Kong auction. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

The Spring 2018 auction season recovered from a slow start to post solid – if not record-breaking – prices for top fancy coloured diamonds and gemstones. The biggest auction event of the season, however, was the series of sales from the estate of Peggy and David Rockefeller that brought in more than $835.7 million (£631.3 million), most of it destined for charitable donations.

The proceeds from the jewellery portion of the estate, auctioned in conjunction with Christie’s 12 June Magnificent Jewels sale, totalled $3.12 million (£2.36 million) against a pre-sale estimate of $780,000 (£590,000). The top lot of the 19 pieces from the Rockefeller collection was a 5 carat (ct) Kashmir sapphire set by jeweller Raymond Yard, which sold for $372,000 (£281,000), and a suite of peridot and diamond jewellery that brought $348,500 (£263,200). 

Christies’ auctioned the Rockefellers’ collection of artwork by Renoir, Rivera, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, O’Keefe and others, along with decorative art objects over a period of 10 days in May, realising $832.6 million (£628.9 million) for a dozen charities.
Fancy blue diamonds were the best performers in the regularly scheduled auctions. Before the season began, dealers at the March Baselworld show had numerous calls from clients who believed fancy blues were underpriced, especially in comparison to fancy pinks. After this season, that is probably no longer the case.

On 29 May Christie’s sold a GIA-graded 8.01 ct Fancy Vivid Blue diamond for nearly $20.5 million (£15.5 million), or $2.55 million (£1.93 million) per carat. This was not a record, but an extremely strong price.

A GIA-graded 3.09 ct Fancy Intense blue diamond drew a $5.375 million (£4.06 million) bid at Christie’s April New York auction, a record for the highest per-carat price ($1.7 million/£1.3 million) ever paid at auction for a diamond of that grade. The following day that record was shattered by a 3.37 ct cut-corner rectangular-shaped diamond of the same grade that sold for $6.663 million (£5.033 million) or $1.9 million (£1.4 million) per carat. This diamond was also graded by GIA.

The high per-carat price was unusual because the diamonds were much smaller (well under 10 carats) than previous record-setting stones.

An oval pink sapphire framed by diamonds.
A 95.45 ct pink Ceylonese sapphire and diamond pendant sold for $2.3 million (£1.7 million) at Sotheby’s 15 May auction in Geneva. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Provenance, not size, was the defining characteristic of the most significant blue diamond of the season. The 6.16 ct Farnese Blue sold for $6.7 million (£5.1 million) at Sotheby’s Geneva 16 May auction, nearly doubling its pre-sale estimate. The diamond, graded Fancy Dark grey-blue by GIA, was from India’s famed Golconda Mine and was first given to Elisabeth Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma, in 1715 when she married Philippe V of Spain. The diamond was passed down through seven generations and, as Elisabeth and Phillippe’s descendants married into other European families, it travelled from Spain to France, Italy and Austria before going up for sale this year.

Fancy pink diamonds however, struggled this season, especially at the outset. At the same Sotheby’s New York sale, a 7 ct square-cut Fancy Intense pink diamond, estimated at $4.2 to $5.2 million (£3.2 million to £3.9 million), failed to find a buyer, as did a 7.37 ct Fancy Intense orangey pink emerald-cut diamond.

A round ruby is flanked by diamonds in a ring.
The 4.59 ct ruby, set by Tiffany & Co., which had come from the estate of the famed songwriter Irving Berlin, doubled its pre-sale estimate to sell for $1.15 million (£870,000) at Christie’s 12 June New York auction. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

Two major rubies achieved strong prices. A 24.70 ct Burmese ruby sold for $11 million (£8 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, while one of the most publicised lots from Christie’s 12 June New York sale was the 4.59 ct Berlin Ruby, a Burmese stone set by Tiffany and owned by the wife of the famed songwriter Irving Berlin. The gem doubled its pre-sale estimate to sell for $1.15 million (£860,000). Additionally, a 95.45 ct pink Ceylonese sapphire sold at Sotheby’s 15 May auction for $2.3 million (£1.7 million).

The first appearance of Paraíba tourmaline in an auction top 10 occurred when a private buyer paid $2.78 million (£2.10 million) at Christie’s 29 May Hong Kong auction for a pair of 7.46 ct and 6.81 ct stones respectively, to total $194,730 (£147,095) per carat. That was a world auction price record for this gemstone. 

Pear-shaped Paraíba tourmalines are framed by pear-shaped diamonds and drop from more pear-shaped diamonds.
Paraíba tourmalines rarely appear in the top 10 auction results, but this pair, weighing 7.46 cts and 6.81 cts, sold for nearly $2.8 million (£2.1 million) at Christie’s 29 May Hong Kong auction. The $194,730 (£147,095) per carat price was a record for Paraíba tourmaline. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

Other significant colourless diamonds sold, all graded by GIA, included:

  • a 51.72 ct GIA-graded F If diamond that sold for $9.26 million (£6.99 million) at Sotheby’s 15 May auction
  • a 20.47 ct D Fl old-mine-cut diamond sold for $2.6 million (£2.0 million), just over its low estimate, at Christie’s 12 June sale
  • a potential D If 15.36 ct heart-shaped diamond went for $1.57 million (£1.19 million) at Christies’ New York 12 June sale 
A round brilliant diamond.
This 51.72 ct D IF diamond sold for $9.26 million (£6.99 million) at Sotheby’s 15 May auction. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Despite the season’s slow beginning, Christies’ Chairman for Europe and Asia Francois Curiel noted that the “rare and beautiful continued to hold ground”. He added that the absence of large fancy coloured diamonds at auction this season was a sign of their rarity, not so much as a weakness in demand.

In addition to its regularly scheduled sales, Sotheby’s has begun a series of online auctions of loose diamonds in more commercial sizes. The auction house featured five diamonds of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 carats (3 round, one pear-shaped and one emerald-cut) over a two-week period starting on 14 June. It will hold another auction of loose diamonds in December.

A large pearl hangs from a diamond pendant.
An 18th-century colourless diamond and natural pearl pendant that belonged to Marie Antoinette of France, estimated to sell for $1 to $2 million (£750,000 to £1.5 million), will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on 12 November in Geneva. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Jewels from one of history’s most legendary royals, Marie-Antoinette, will be a highlight of the autumn season. Sotheby’s will be selling her jewels, which include a large diamond necklace, a natural pearl necklace, and a diamond and pearl pendant, as part of the Royal Jewels of the Bourbon Parma Family sale on 12 November in Geneva.

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.

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