Christie’s in Geneva has auctioned the 76-carat Archduke Joseph Diamond for nearly $21.5 million (SFr20.35 million), a world record auction price per carat for a colourless diamond.
It was the first of two major diamonds that went under the hammer in Geneva on Wednesday. Rival Sotheby’s auctioned the second gem, a rare deep blue diamond of 10.48 carats, for $10.86 million – well more than twice the amount expected.
The Archduke Joseph Diamond was sold well above the expected $15 million and more than triple the price paid for it at auction almost two decades ago.
The 76.02-carat stone, with perfect colour and internally flawless clarity, came from the ancient Golconda mines in India.
The seller, Alfredo J. Molina, chairman of California-based jeweller Black, Starr & Frost, said immediately afterward that there were two main bidders and that he was delighted with the result. Molina said the winning bidder, who wished to remain anonymous, is going to donate the diamond for display at a museum.
“It’s a great price for a stone of this quality,” Molina told The Associated Press. “It’s one of a kind, so it’s like saying ‘Are you pleased when you sell the Mona Lisa?’ Or ‘Are you pleased when you sell the Hope Diamond?’ It’s all what the market will bear, and the stone sold for a very serious price.”
Named after Archduke Joseph August of Austria, the great-grandson of both a Holy Roman emperor and a French king, the diamond passed to his son, Archduke Joseph Francis, who put it in a bank vault, then to an anonymous buyer who kept it in a safe during the Second World War.
From there it surfaced at a London auction in 1961, then at a Geneva auction in 1993, when Christie’s sold it for $6.5 million.
The blue Sotheby's diamond also did extremely well on Wednesday.
"It is certainly a world record price per carat for a deep blue diamond," according to David Bennett, head of Sotheby's international jewellery department.
London luxury jeweller Laurence Graff bid and won via telephone.
"It is an extraordinary stone, a very, very mystical deep blue. They only come from one mine, the Cullinan mine in South Africa," Bennett told reporters after the sale. The mine is owned by Petra Diamonds.
The stone, roughly the size of an almond, will likely be recut to showcase its splendour.
"It is an extremely rare ten-carat deep blue briolette that can be recut to a seven-carat vivid blue," jeweller Mark Emanuel told Reuters. "Most of these diamonds are bought on the basis of speculating and recutting. That's why we come. As a diamond dealer we look at the potential of a stone."
These were not the only mega-diamonds to go under the hammer in the hotel room packed with well-heeled bidders.
Beneath a row of three enormous chandeliers that cast panther-like shadows on the ceiling, the participants eagerly pounced at the jewels while competing with bidders from around the world calling in to Christie’s employees seated in rows on both sides of the room.
But perhaps the buyers weren’t entirely immune to the harsh financial climate in Europe – or at least some Geneva version of it.
Two plus-sized diamonds did not sell on Tuesday night. A yellow diamond with 70.19 carats failed to sell because the final bid was SFr2.8 million ($2.95 million), just slightly below the reserve price. A 12.16 carat pink diamond didn’t sell because the final bid was SFr1.8 million, well under the reserve price.
On Wednesday, Sotheby’s also auctioned off a conch pearl, enamel and diamond Cartier bracelet that formerly belonged to Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain. It went for $3.47 million.
The Archduke Joseph Diamond joins a long list of other fabulous jewels, watches and other luxury goods sold in Geneva. Here’s a look at the city’s most eye-popping diamonds put up for auction in recent years:
In May 2012, Sotheby’s sold the 34.98 carat Beau Sancy diamond to an anonymous bidder for $9.7 million. Marie de Medici had worn it at her coronation as Queen Consort of Henry IV in France in 1610. Christie’s auctioned off a 32.08-carat Burmese ruby and diamond ring that sold for $6.7 million, a world record price for a ruby sold at auction.
In November 2011, the Sun-Drop Diamond of South Africa, a giant pear-shaped yellow gem weighing 110.3 carats, sold for more than $10.9 million at auction, beating previous records for a jewel of its type. Including commission, the unidentified telephone bidder paid almost $12.4 million for the gem.
In May 2011, Christie’s fetched $10.9 million for a 56-carat heart-shaped diamond that was internally flawless and $7.1 million for a 130-carat Burmese sapphire.
In November 2010, a rare pink diamond smashed the world record for a jewel at auction, selling for more than $46 million to well-known London jeweller Laurence Graff. The 24.78-carat "fancy intense pink" diamond immediately became known as “The Graff Pink”.