Posts tagged Crown Jewels

Cartier Royal necklace in diamonds and a pink spinel from Tajikistan.

When I visited Baselworld last month, one of the world’s premier jewellery events, I was surprised but pleased to see the large amount of top quality spinels available on offer to buyers.  It is a very underrated stone which has never received the attention it deserves.  An increased supply means that there is an increasing market for them and I suspect that it is going to go the way tourmalines did 15 years ago- suddenly people fell in love with the variety and depth of their colour and their popularity (and price) took off.

Red spinel, pink tourmaline and diamond ring by Garrard and Co.

Pink and violet spinel earrings from Van Cleef and Arpels.

The range of colours available in spinels is incredible, from deep reds to silvery greys.

The rarest and most sought after colours are saturated reds and blues and because they occur in areas where the most highly prized rubies and sapphires are mined the gems were often confused.  The most famous spinel in the world is a stone known as the Black Prince’s Ruby.  It has a romantic history, having been brought back to England by the Black Prince, son of Edward III from his battles against the Moors in Spain during the 14th cenury.  It was worn by Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and set in the Imperial State Crown in 1837, where it has remained ever since. 

Spinels and sapphires and rubies are two distinct and separate mineral families with different mineral structures.  The stratospheric rise in price of the latter has lead to an increased demand in red and blue spinels which can be offered as an attractive alternative (in some cases an improvement).  Unlike many coloured stones on the market, spinels are rarely heat treated and this is seen as a huge bonus by serious gem collectors.  Spinels also rank high on the Moh’s scale of hardness, coming in at about 7.5-8, which makes them durable.  Blue and red aside, spinels range from the palest pinks and violets through to astonishing candy floss fuchsias, deep royal purples and silvery greys.  Pastel tones should be relatively free of inclusions, but as the top colours are rarer, some inclusion is to be expected.  It goes without saying that you should buy the best clarity you can afford.  Cut is of paramount importance in this stone: when it is properly proportioned it has excellent brilliance and even the untrained eye can spot a dull stone.  Do not be tempted: it is shoddy workmanship.

In terms of price, pastel tones are still relatively affordable and can be bought for £500-£1000/carat.  Large, top quality red and blue stones are already rising in price and you can expect to pay several thousand pounds a carat.  The big brands are still testing the waters with this gem, although Garrards have recently produced a line featuring fine red spinels and Cartier created a high jewellery necklace set with an important fuchsia pink stone from Tajikistan.  JAR, of course, always decades ahead of the game, has been using them for years. 

As has been mentioned before, the finest examples come from Sri Lanka and the Mogok mines in Burma.  However, good deposits quality deposits are also being extracted from Vietnam, Tajikistan and various African mines- the stones emerging from Madagascar are particularly exceptional.  I would rarely advise people to buy stones as investments, but if you are thinking of making an important purchase whose value you would like to see rise satisfactorily in the next 10 years, I would be happy to take a punt on the spinel.

The Black Prince's Ruby is in fact the world's most famous spinel.  It is set in the Imperial State Crown.

24 Carat Brilliance: Garrard and Co. Launch Their New Collection

It was off to Garrards for me last night to attend the launch of their new range, 24.  The collection alludes to the 24 in the day and infers its wearability day and night.  The number 24 is also something of a charm to the 281 year old jewellers- they are based at 24 AlbermaleStreet, London- their headquarters since 1911, to which they moved back to after a stint in Regent Street.

Layered pendants and rings in white and yellow gold and pave set with diamonds from Gararrard's new 24 Collection.

The new collection, composed of elegantly alternating pave set circles and diamonds, can be worn singly or stacked.  The pendants can be layered and are available in pave diamonds and different kinds of gold. They differ slightly and complement each other beautifully.  Also right on trend is the selection of statement earcuffs, although more classic vertical earrings are also on offer.  The collection is eminently versatile and in my opinion an instant classic- it is not jewellery that will date easily.

A close up of a ring from the 24 Collection in yellow gold and diamonds.

It was good to see some of their new high jewellery sets on display- the one that particularly took my fancy was the Peony Suite- a fantasy of glowing rubellites and diamonds.

The Peony Suite in rubellites and diamonds.

Garrard and Co. is also worth a visit just to have a look at some of their archive on display- this is a jewellery house with an impressive pedigree.  A Garrard and Co. jeweller was appointed by Queen Victoria and an employee of the firm always held the role until 2007.  As such, the firm looked after, restored and made the necessary alterations to most of the treasures held in the Tower of London.  I was delighted to see the original working drawing for the Royal Sceptre to accommodate the Cullinan Diamond and the gouache for the set of jewellery given by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) to Alexandra of Denmark.

The original drawing of the wedding set the future Edward VII gave his wife, Alexandra of Denmark.

Important Gems Continue to Sparkle

The last few years have continued to see an astonishing increase in the prices achieved by large and important gemstones.  There are various contributing factors in this phenomenon: firstly, there is more money than ever before.  In spite of the financial crash of 2008, we are in a golden age discerning buyers who not only know what they want, but also buy in a highly discerning and educated manner.  In the case of precious stones, the best is becoming rarer- the Argyle mine in Australia produces 90% of the world’s pink diamonds and is due to close down in 2019.  There is currently no other known source of pink diamonds, so prices even of moderately sized stones are sky high.  The most expensive pink diamond in the world was the Graff Pink, a 24.78 carat stone which sold in 2010 for $46 million.

The Graff Pink, the most expensive pink diamond ever sold at auction.

The Graff Pink, the most expensive pink diamond ever sold at auction.

Kashmiri sapphires and Burmese rubies-the most impeccable source for each of these gems- of good sizes too, are increasingly rare.  The majority of coloured stones have been enhanced by heat treatment (except emeralds, which cannot take it) so untreated stones command at least a 20% premium.  With the political instability in Burma, and Kashmiri mines hardly producing at all now, rubies and sapphires recently broke world records too.  At Sotheby’s Magnificent Sales last October a 17.16 carat sapphire became the most expensive at auction at $4.06 million and the pigeon’s blood 8.62 carat Burmese Graff ruby achieved a world record price of $8.6 million.  So, should a buyer find himself engulfed by political uncertainty, these highly desirable goods become even more so due to their portability.

The Wittelsbach Blue Diamond

The Wittelsbach Blue Diamond

In the heady world of one-upmanship, nothing can beat provenance: the story of and legend of a stone cannot be tampered with, and it is rare to see important historic gems coming on to the market more than once a decade.  The two stars of the recent years have been the Wittelsbach Blue Diamond and La Peregrina Pearl.  The Wittelsbach is an intense, flawless blue stone of 31.06 carats that once formed part of both the Austrian and Bavarian Crown Jewels and was auctioned in 2008.  La Peregrina is arguably the most famous pearl in the world, having passed through the Royal houses of France and Spain and owned by Elizabth Taylor- it sold in 2011 for nearly $12 million, four times its estimate price.  With stones of such quality and pedigree, there is nothing more satisfying than having a jewel specially created for it that can only enhance its beauty and value, as often happens when new owners acquire them.

There are downsides to speculating in coloured stones.  They do not yield a dividend and are not always easy to dispose of.  They should be bought at auction or wholesale for the best possible deals and always accompanied by certificates from reputable laboratories- for example, the Gemmological Institute of America.  However, if one has money and time to spare for a return on an investment, it seems that with ‘superstones’ the only way is up.   

PEARLS (Part 2)


Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wearing La Peregrina Pearl in about 1606

Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wearing La Peregrina Pearl in about 1606

Elizabeth I, that lover of fine pearls who used their symbolic value to such great effect must certainly have envied some of the fine specimens her sister Mary wore while she was queen. As a wedding present her husband, Phillip II of Spain, gave her one of the most famous pearls in the world, known as La Peregrina (the Pilgrim). It is huge, and at the time of its discovery it was the largest symmetrical pearl found, weighing in at 55.95 carats. This gem of the highest quality almost came to a very undignified end. On Queen Mary’s death in 1558 the pearl reverted back to Phillip in Spain, where the stone remained part of the Spanish Crown Jewels for several hundred years. In 1808 Napoleon roundly defeated Spain during his attempt to dominate Europe, and installed his brother Joseph as King. Joseph raided the treasury, but after his brother Napoleon’s decisive defeat in 1815 he emigrated to America to settle permanently, taking with him several important gems, including La Peregrina. The pearl then passed on through descent to the Emperor Napoleon III, who sold it to the Marquess of Abercorn during his exile in England after his deposition. The gem was later bought by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor. The pearl nearly arrived at its undignified en when Elizabeth mislaid the pearl not long after she was given it. The couple commissioned Cartier to design necklace from which to suspend the pearl and show it off to its maximum advantage- the result was one of the more daring and unconventional pieces they produced. The necklace became truly stellar in its fame when it was sold in 2011 as part of Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. The piece achieved £10.5 million dollars.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina pearl in the necklace designed for it by Cartier.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina pearl in the necklace designed for it by Cartier.

Another pearl of incredible Royal pedigree and often confused with La Peregrina was La Pelegrina (the Incomparable). Again, it was originally part of the Spanish Crown Jewels, and again it became part of the French Crown Jewels, on this occasion bequeathed to the Infanta Maria Teresa (or Marie Therese) when she married Louis XIV of France in 1660. Her father, Phillip IV was wearing La Peregrina in his hat when he handed over his daughter to the French King. Marie Therese died in 1683, when the fate of the pearl becomes uncertain. The most likely story is that La Pelegrina remained with the French Bourbons until the Revolution. The French Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792, the thieves managing to swipe several important stones including the Sancy diamond, the Tavernier Blue (now known as the Hope diamond) and most probably La Pelegrina. La Pelegrina somehow resurfaced again in Russia in 1826, in the hands of a gem dealer named Zozima. Princess Tatiana Youssoupov, the wife of the richest man in Russia, bought the stone from him, whence it passed by descent to Prince Felix Youssoupov, murderer of Rasputin. It was one of the few fabulous possessions Prince Felix managed to smuggle out of Russia with him in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. In 1953 he reluctantly sold it to the Swiss jeweller Jean Lombard, who had worked with Eugene Faberge (son of Carl, of the easter eggs fame) on various jewellery collections on his exile from Russia. La Pelegrina was then sold to a private collector, and it later reappeared for auction in Christie’s Geneva in 1989, where it sold for the then record sum of $463800. It was clear that in spite of the depreciation of pearls due to the impact of cultured pearls had not dented the fascination with natural pearls, and as seen from the sale of La Peregrina, the fascination with important stones of impeccable lineage and quality the price has only risen exponentially.