GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Going, going, gone! For CHF11.28 million, the world’s “largest known pear-shaped fancy vivid yellow diamond”, a rarity for colour at its size and a newcomer on the market, went to an individual who wishes to remain anonymous, says Sotheby’s. The diamond was the hottest item in the auction house’s semi-annual Geneva fine jewels sale Tuesday night 15 November.
It kept great company this week, with jewels (not, of course, just baubles) that could tell tales and watches to match every fantasy. Wednesday night Christie’s holds its fine jewels sales, expected to fetch CHF49 million in total.
A watch sale by the auction house Monday night sold more than CHF26m in timepieces, including a 1968 Patek Philippe pink platinum watch that went for CHF2m, twice its estimated sale price.
Geneva’s “palaces”, or five-star hotels, hosted visits by James Bond’s electrifying watch (not literally, one of the few things it doesn’t do), which was also sold Monday night. fpr CHF219,000, as well as a collection of astonishing jewels from the star-studded world of Hollywood’s last “real star”, Liz Taylor. The Taylor collection then moved on to Paris and soon heads for New York where Christie’s will hold a four-day special auction in December, linked to a number of Elizabeth Taylor events.
The Wednesday night Christie’s sale features one of the largest selections of BVlgari jewels ever seen at auction, it says, as well as 40 jewels that Welsh actor Richard Burton gave to Susan Hunt Burton, his third of four wives, from 1976-82; Burton, was famously earlier married twice to Taylor.
Burton, who moved to Celigny in 1957 is buried in the village, not far from Geneva.
For Russian friends in Geneva, a parure as rich in historical and emotional value as beauty, was the highlight of the week’s shows, but it failed to find a buyer Tuesday night at Sotheby’s despite strong interest.
The jewels in the diamond necklace with earrings and brooch, whose asking price was not published, are reputed to have been part of the ransom offered by Catherine I of Russia, wife of Peter the Great, to Ahmed III, the 23rd Ottoman Sultan after the Pruth River battles in 1711. The battles were a key point in the war upon Russia by the Sultan, undertaken with the encouragement of Sweden’s ruler Charles XII. Russian forces were surrounded and in desperate straits when Catherine, who had accompanied her husband to the Pruth River for the final battle, gathered her jewels in secret and sent them with a last plea for peace from her husband to the sultan. A treaty was thus negotiated and, popular history has it, Catherine saved her husband and the empire.
The jewels went on to have a rich history, ending up in Egypt and eventually, in 1963, on the market. Christie’s notes that they are probably the most “important suite of antique coloured diamond jewels to appear at auction in the past 50 years”.
Fine jewels have value because of their intrinsic beauty and/or their rarity, but also often because of their history, as in the case of Empress Catherine’s peace offering. But glamour counts for much and Geneva has seen plenty of it, or at least the acoutrements of it, in the past week.
The Taylor jewels in particular, were accompanied by non-stop film footage of the star wearing her glamorous pieces, who went from National Velvet to Cleopatra, but who also lived her private life very much as a star. She was one of the early entertainment world celebrities to set up house in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad, where she was a familiar sight, wearing her extraordinary and often over-sized jewels on a daily basis.
“She was the last of the great Hollywood stars”, said Christie’s Jonathan Rendell, deputy chairman of its Americas division, when presenting the collection to the press. She understood, he said, that “when she stepped outside her door she was no longer Elizabeth Taylor the private person, but the Hollywood star.”
Christie’s will not say how much of the money from the sale will go to support Taylor’s humanitarian work, but Rendell did make clear that she selected the pieces before her death and asked that Christie’s handle the sale. She died 23 March 2011, age 79.
GenevaLunch will be adding a photo album of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels, from the Geneva exhibition, Wednesday afternoon.