Posts tagged Christie's magnificent jewels

A necklace auctioned by Christie’s in May 2019, set with a 75.63 carat pear cut emerald once owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia.

One of the things I love the most is tracing the journeys of important gems.  Having previously written about the famed emeralds owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia, I was fascinated to hear that a single one of these stones had made an auction appearance earlier this year. The stone attracted attention not only because of its Imperial provenance, but also because it was arguably the finest emerald in the Grand Duchess’ collection.

The Grand Duchess Vladimir wearing her emeralds for the great Court ball of 1903. Note the emerald diadem; the large square on her chest is the 107 carat gem recently auctioned.

The emerald necklace in its original form: nine large emeralds set in diamonds, suspending important cabochon briolette stones.

A rare photograph of a young Grand Duchess Vladimir wearing the necklace, the brooch clearly pinned to the front.

Originally, the emerald was part of a parure, a wedding present from the Romanovs to Princess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, to celebrate her marriage to the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II, upon which she became Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Vladimir Pavlovna.  These stones, in my opinion, were probably the finest collection of emeralds ever owned by an individual, unrivalled in size, quality and colour match.  The fullest extent of the Grand Duchess’ emerald collection can be seen in the famous photograph of her in historical Russian costume for a ball in 1903.  The centre stone of the parure’s necklace (more of which later) was a hexagonal specimen weighing over 100 carats, and can clearly be seen on the headdress.  The stone recently sold at auction was originally an emerald cut weighing 107.67 carats, set in diamonds and suspending an important drop emerald; this can also clearly be identified pinned at the front.  The rest of her emerald jewellery, all containing stones of considerable size, is sewn all over her dress.

Upon her death in 1920, the emeralds were inherited by the Grand Duchess’ son, the Grand Duke Boris, the rest of the jewellery divided into colours and bequeathed thus to her other children.  The first break up of the emeralds was effected by the Grand Duke, who sold the emerald necklace in about 1922 to Cartier; they were subsequently reset into a sleek Art Deco sautoir, bought by Edith McCormack Rockefeller.  However, some of the stones must have been held back by the Grand Duke, who clearly only sold out of sheer necessity.  The emerald set in the brooch sold by Christie’s was only acquired from the Grand Duke by Cartier in 1927; on expert gemmological advice the stone was recut from a 107.67 cut to an unrecognizable 75.63 pear shape.  The pear shape was then sold to John D. Rockefeller Jr., brother of Edith and owner of the other stones.  John D. Jr. must have known the Imperial provenance of the emerald he had bought and must have wanted to reunite it with the Imperial stones in his sister’s sautoir.

The emeralds as set by Cartier into the Art Deco sautoir bought by Edith McCormack Rockefeller.

The emeralds as set by Cartier into her Indian style tiara. Note there are now only seven stones.

The reunion was to be short lived; Edith McCormick died in 1932 and the necklace was sold and bought by the heiress Barbara Hutton, the transaction brokered once more by Cartier.  At this point, the more of the stones must have been dispersed: the McCormick sautoir clearly contained nine stones; when Barbara Hutton had Cartier reset the emeralds into a tiara convertible into a necklace, there are only seven.  There is speculation that she used the other stones in a ring and earrings, but on close inspection of photographs of these items it is impossible that the stones in these were recut octagon emeralds from the Vladimir necklace.

The Art Deco necklace unveiled by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1929; I find the similarity of these emeralds to the drops in the original Vladimir necklace remarkable.

If we go back to the emeralds as they were given to the Grand Duchess, we can also see that suspended from the necklace are nine important cabochon drop shape stones.  These stones do not feature in any of the McCormick/Hutton versions of the necklace- nor do they feature in any jewels created by Cartier in either the 20s or 30s.  I have a hunch: in 1929, Van Cleef unveiled a spectacular diamond necklace in the Art Deco style suspending 9 cabochon briolette emeralds, remarkably similar in shape and size to the 9 in the original Vladimir necklace.  I suspect that the Grand Duke had retained these stones, disposing of them only in 1927, the same time at which he sold the 100 carat emerald brooch.  Should my hunch be correct, I have no idea why the stones would have ended up in the hands of rival jewellery houses. Speculatively, it would make it the second time Van Cleef handled emeralds from the same Romanov source, as they acquired Barbara Hutton’s tiara in the mid 1960s and sold the stones off piecemeal. The Art Deco necklace was bought in 1947 by Princess Faiza of Egypt and is now owned by a private collector.

 The drop shape emerald had been bought from the Rockefellers by the Esmerian family, the same gemmologists who had advised on recutting the gem.  The pear is set in an unremarkable contemporary diamond setting which I suspect will not survive, achieving an auction price of CHF4,335,000.  Imagine if the stones had survived as a set.


The Cullinan Dream, second from left, flanked by its three sister stones.

Christie’s have launched a new publicity blitz with the unveiling of the sale of another remarkable stone: the Cullinan Dream Diamond.  At 24.18 carats, it is the largest blue diamond ever to be offered up to auction.  Christie’s have a good track record with record breaking stones, having sold to date the largest vivid orange, vivid green, vivid blue and vivid red diamonds.  The clarity of the diamond has not yet been revealed, and nor has the official pre-sale estimate.

The rough stone from which the Cullinan Dream was cut, weighing an astonishing 122.52 carats.

Christie's image of the stone being worn, which gives a good idea of its size.

It will be interesting to see what price the stone achieves: the record per carat to beat will be that held by the Fancy Intense Blue VVS1 stone weighing 1.74 carats which Christie’s sold last year.  This stone fetched an eye watering $1.106 million a carat and was rather ignored by the media.  One can only assume it was due to lack of provenance or its perceived modest size.  Stone dealers will be keeping an extra close eye to the results of this sale not only because of the importance of the stone but because of the spectacular flop that was the sale of the Shirley Temple Blue diamond last month at Sotheby’s.  The pre-sale estimate of this much hyped gem was $25-35 million; bidding stalled at £22 million and the jewel was withdrawn.  Although apparently money is not an issue for the seller, there will be expectations to sell the Cullinan Dream for a high price- as we know, coloured diamonds have no pricing index like regular commodities and the price per carat achieved will underpin the future prices of other important coloured diamonds.

The Cullinan Dream is the largest of four main stones that were cut from a rough weighing 122.52 carats.  This whopper was discovered in the South African Cullinan mines owned by Petra Diamonds.  The most remarkable thing about blue diamonds from this mine is that they are specifically extracting colourless stones, so any blue ones discovered are pure chance. 

Auction News: Magnificent Gemstones

The jewellery auction season is upon us and this year Sotheby’s and Christie’s are going head to head with some of the most magnificent stones seen on the market for some time.  I have previously written about the high demand for investment grade spectacular gemstones and the pieces on offer are sure to whet the appetite of collectors.  Each of the auction houses is presenting a stunning array of jewels, but for me the most special ones are the large coloured diamonds and precious stones.  Coloured diamonds have become bona fide investments as they are genuinely rare; there is no need to control the quantity of these diamonds coming onto the market, unlike the white diamond trade.

The Shirley Temple Blue Diamond

The top billing of Sotheby’s show (the pun is intentional) is the Shirley Temple Blue Diamond, a fine example of how a coloured diamond is going to yield a marvellous return. It was bought for Shirley Temple by her father for her 12th birthday as her film ‘The Blue Bird’ was wrapping up.  He paid $7210, or about $118500 in today’s money.  The pre-sale estimate on the stone is $25-$35million. The stone has been termed Fancy Deep Blue by the Gemmological Institute of America, is VVS2 in clarity and is a beautiful 9.54 carat cushion cut.  Due to the intensity of the colour and the superb quality and size of the diamond it is thought to have been originally mined in either the fabled Golconda mines in India or the Cullinan mines in South Africa.  Blue diamonds are given their hue by traces of boron in the crystal structure and the Gemmological Institute of America state that less than 0.5% of stones submitted to them can be called blue.

The Unique Pink Diamond

The next star to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s is the ‘Unique Pink’ Diamond. This stone comes with an estimate of $35 million.  It is the largest pear shaped Fancy Vivid Pink diamond ever auctioned; it weighs a whopping 15.38 carats and comes from the Williamson mine in South Africa.  Unlike the famous Argyle mines in Australia, which specifically mine pink diamonds, the Williamson mine mainly produces white diamonds and if a coloured stone emerges, it is considered a bonus.  The Williamson also produced some decades ago a 20 carat pale pink diamond of superb quality; known as the ‘Williamson Pink’, it was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II and it often graces her lapel.  Pink diamonds are irresistibly mysterious, as no-one really know why they are pink- they do not contain traces of anything else found in coloured diamonds.  Even with this eye-watering price tag, the value can only go up- the Argyle mine in Australia, which produces over 90% of the world’s pink diamonds, is due to close in the next few years as it is running out.

The Jubilee Ruby

Completing the fabulous trio of amazing stones is the Jubilee Ruby being auctioned by Christie’s.  The oval fiery stone weighs 15.99 carats and is set in an inventive ring floral ring by Verdura- it is finished in yellow gold which only highlights the superb warmth of the stone.  The estimate: $12-$15 million.  It is known to come from the Mogok mine in Burma, which produces the world’s finest rubies.  As natural rubies of over 5 carats are supremely rare, to see one of this size exceptional.  It has no treatment at all and so is the dream of every gem collector.

I have no doubt that in the coming few weeks, some auction records will be broken and it just remains to us to watch this space.

Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Starring the Shirley Temple Blue Diamond: 19th April 2016, New York

Sotheby’s Magnificent and Noble Jewels: 17th May 2016, Geneva

Christie’s Magnificent Jewels and the Jubilee Ruby: 20th April 2016, New York

Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels: 18th May 2016, Geneva