Top Gems Continue to Set Records at 2015 Auctions

The 16.08 ct. Fancy Vivid pink diamond sold for $28.5 million to the same buyer who bought the record-breaking Blue Moon Josephine diamond. Photo courtesy Christie’s
The major auction houses had another successful year with fine jewelry, 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 in gem and jewelry 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 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 Blue Moon Josephine, a 12.08 ct. Fancy Vivid blue, is the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction. Its $4 million per carat price exceeded the previous record by $1 million. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s

Several gems made worldwide headlines this fall:

  • A 12.03 carat (ct.) Fancy Vivid blue diamond sold at Sotheby’s Geneva Nov. 19 for $48 million, making it the most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction − and the most expensive per carat: $4 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 honor. The same buyer purchased a 16.08 ct. Fancy Vivid pink diamond at Christie’s Geneva the day before (Nov. 18). Both diamonds were graded by GIA.
  • At the same Christie’s Nov. 18 sale, a major dealer bought a 50.48 ct. pear-shaped D Fl diamond, graded by GIA, for $7.84 million or $155,264 per carat.
  • In addition, a private buyer paid $18 million for the 15.04 ct. Burmese ruby that Christie’s named the Crimson Flame. The gem, which sold in Hong Kong on Dec. 1 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 per carat for a 27.68 ct. gem. Another buyer at this sale paid a record $5.2 million for a natural gray 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 per carat at auction for a ruby: $1.2 million per carat. Photo courtesy of Christie’s

The year at Sotheby’s New York closed with a $52 million sale that included a 25.87 ct. sugar loaf cut Kashmir sapphire that drew a winning bid of $5.1 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.

Christie’s finished the year with a $4.3 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 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 hammer price, and a 103.66 ct. diamond graded L VS2 by GIA drew a bid of $3.75 million. A 23.98 ct. Burmese sapphire sold for $1.5 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

At Bonham’s Dec. 5 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. The 19th century earrings were once owned by an unnamed European princess.

Christie’s closed the spring auction season with a $118 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.

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

On May 13 in Geneva, Sotheby’s sold the first ruby to break the $1 million per carat record. The 25.59 ct. Sunrise ruby doubled its pre-sale estimate to achieve a final price of $30.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a ruby at auction. This auction resulted in the highest total ever for a jewelry auction: $160.91 million, nearly $20 million above the previous record. The auction catalog 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, or $1.82 million per carat. The diamond had been stored in a bank vault since the end of World War II.

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

In Hong Kong, Tiancheng International reported its most successful jewelry auction ever on June 14. The sale totaled U.S. $38 million, and included a 25.72 ct. D VS2 heart-shaped diamond that sold for $3.18 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 liked 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.