Feature

Top Gems Continue to Set Records at 2015 Auctions


The 16 carat Fancy Vivid pink diamond sold for $28.5 million (£19.1 million) to the same buyer who bought the record-breaking blue diamond. Photo courtesy Christie’s
The 16.08 ct. Fancy Vivid pink diamond sold for $28.5 million (£19.1 million) to the same buyer who bought the record-breaking Blue Moon of Josephine diamond. Photo courtesy Christie’s
The major auction houses had another successful year with fine jewellery, helped immensely by record-setting bids from a number of private buyers.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s, who dominate the auction market worldwide, recorded an estimated $1.2 billion (£805 million) in gem and jewellery sales between them for the year. Other auction houses that sold very important gems, including Bonham’s of London and Tiancheng in Hong Kong, added $70 to $80 million (£47 to £54 million) to the total.

This total is down slightly from last year, said Francois Curiel, chairman of Christie's Asia-Pacific. “The market showed great interest in rare, top-quality stones, with very high prices,” he said. “The middle market pieces showed a lot more resistance.” 

The $48 million (£32 million) Blue Moon of Josephine, a 12.08 ct Fancy Vivid blue, has become the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction. Its $4 million (£2.65 million) per carat price exceeded the previous record by $1 million (£662,900). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s
The $48 million (£31.8 million) Blue Moon of Josephine, a 12.08 ct. Fancy Vivid blue, is the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction. Its $4 million (£2.65 million) per carat price exceeded the previous record by $1 million (£662,900). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s

Several gems made worldwide headlines this autumn:

  • A 12.03 carat (ct.) Fancy Vivid blue diamond sold at Sotheby’s Geneva on 19 Nov for $48 million (£32 million), making it the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction − and the most expensive per carat: $4 million (£2.7 million) per carat. The buyer was a Hong Kong businessman named Joseph Lau who named the diamond Blue Moon of Josephine in his daughter’s honour. The same buyer had purchased a 16.08 ct. Fancy Vivid pink diamond at Christie’s Geneva the day before (18 Nov). Both diamonds were graded by GIA.
  • At the same Christie’s 18 Nov sale, a major dealer bought a 50.48 ct. Pear-shaped D Fl diamond, graded by GIA, for $7.84 million (£5.44 million) or $155,264 (£107,775) per carat.
  • In addition, a private buyer paid $18 million (£12 million) for the 15.04 ct. Burmese ruby that Christie’s named the Crimson Flame. The gem, which sold in Hong Kong on 1 Dec to a private buyer, was the highest price ever paid per carat at auction for a ruby.
  • A private buyer at Sotheby’s Hong Kong October sale broke the newly set per-carat price for a Kashmir sapphire by paying $242,145 (£162,492) per carat for a 27.68 ct. gem. Another buyer at this sale paid a record $5.2 million (£3.5 million) for a natural grey pearl necklace, called the Chowdray Pearls.

The 15.04 ct. Crimson Flame, an exceptionally rare Burmese pigeon’s blood ruby, is the highest price ever paid at auction for a ruby at $18 million. Photo courtesy of Christie’s
The 15.04 ct. Crimson Flame, an exceptionally rare Burmese pigeon’s blood ruby, fetched the highest price ever paid per carat at auction for a ruby: $1.2 million (£800,000) per carat. Photo courtesy of Christie’s

The year at Sotheby’s New York closed with a $52 million (£35 million) sale that included a 25.87 ct. sugar loaf cut Kashmir sapphire that drew a winning bid of $5.1 million (£3.4 million). The Kashmir sapphire easily surpassed the highlight of the sale, a diamond necklace that Van Cleef & Arpels fashioned for Queen Nazli of Egypt in the 1930s, which sold for $4.3 million (£2.9 million).

Christie’s finished the year with a $4.3 million (£2.9 million) bid for the 31.34 ct. D VVS2 Victory Diamond once owned by heiress Florence Gould. The diamond was scheduled to be sold last year with a $5 to $8 million (£3.4 to £5.4 million) pre-sale estimate, but failed to meet its reserve. At the same sale, a 43.79 ct. D VS1 cushion-shaped Type IIa diamond drew a $4 million (£2.77 million) hammer price, and a 103.66 ct. diamond graded L VS2 by GIA drew a bid of $3.75 million (£2.52 million). A 23.98 ct. Burmese sapphire sold for $1.5 million (£1 million), nearly double its pre-sale estimate, but the 12.52 ct. Matice Kashmir sapphire did not meet its reserve.

This four-strand colored natural pearl necklace set a record bid of $5.2 million from an Asian private buyer at Christie’s April 14 auction in New York. Photo courtesy of Christie’s
This four-strand coloured natural pearl necklace set a record bid of $5.2 million (£3.5 million) from an Asian private buyer at Christie’s 14 April auction in New York. Photo courtesy of Christie’s

At Bonham’s 5 Dec London sale, a pair of Kashmir sapphire earrings (7.92 ct. and 7.96 ct.), nearly doubled their pre-sale estimate, selling for $2.3 million (£1.5 million). The 19th century earrings were once owned by an unnamed European princess.

Christie’s closed the spring auction season with a $118 million (£79 million) sale in Hong Kong, the highest total achieved for a sale in Asia. Nearly 90% of the lots offered were sold and prices, while not quite record breaking, were very strong. The top lot was a 120 ct. Burmese ruby and diamond necklace by Etcetera that sold to a private Asian buyer for $13 million (£8.7 million).

Van Cleef & Arpels fashioned this diamond necklace for Queen Nazli of Egypt in the 1930s. Set with more than 600 round and baguette diamonds weighing a total of approximately 217 carats, it sold for $4.3 million. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s
Van Cleef & Arpels fashioned this diamond necklace for Queen Nazli of Egypt in the 1930s. Set with more than 600 round and baguette diamonds weighing a total of approximately 217 carats, it sold for $4.3 million (£2.9 million). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

On 13 May in Geneva, Sotheby’s sold the first ruby to break the $1 million (£630,600) per carat record. The 25.59 ct. Sunrise ruby doubled its pre-sale estimate to achieve a final price of $30.3 million (£20.3 million), the highest price ever paid for a ruby at auction. This auction resulted in the highest total ever for a jewellery auction: $160.91 million (£107.98 million), nearly $20 million (£13.4 million) above the previous record. The auction catalogue noted the ruby was Burmese, with no evidence of treatment.

The sale also featured an 8.72 ct. GIA-graded Fancy Vivid pink diamond that reportedly was linked to Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. The cushion cut diamond sold for $15.9 million (£10 million), or $1.82 million (£1.14 million) per carat. The diamond had been stored in a bank vault since the end of the Second World War.

The Victory Diamond, a D VVS2 rectangular-cut diamond ring of 31.34 carats, sold for $4.3 million in late 2015. Photo courtesy of Christie’s
The Victory Diamond, a D VVS2 emerald-cut diamond ring of 31.34 carats, sold for $4.3 million (£3 million) in late 2015. Photo courtesy of Christie’s

In Hong Kong, Tiancheng International reported its most successful jewellery auction ever on 14 June. The sale totalled U.S. $38 million (£25.5 million), and included a 25.72 ct. D VS2 heart-shaped diamond that sold for $3.18 million (£2.13 million). The diamond was cut from a 67.45 ct. piece of rough.

The market for top gems at auction offered a bright spot in an otherwise difficult year for the industry. More stones such as these will likely come to market in 2016, including some of the major diamonds mined during the previous year.

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.