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Sotheby’s sets new records as the Blue Moon diamond gets $48.4 million

by Greg Klein | November 11, 2015

The Blue Moon netted less than the seller’s highest hopes but still set “a new record price for any gemstone and per carat,” Sotheby’s Geneva showroom heard. And, one day after Christie’s auctioned a pink diamond for $28.5 million, the anonymous buyer sparked speculation. In each case the purchaser was described only as being from Hong Kong, Reuters reported. He, she or they promptly named the first Sweet Josephine and the second Blue Moon of Josephine.

Blue Moon diamond sets new records with $48.4-million price

The Blue Moon before and after: A master cutter hacked
away more than half the size to nearly double the value.

The blue’s price fell in the mid-range of an anticipated $35 million to $55 million. Christie’s pink got over half a million more than its highest anticipated price and nearly tripled the auctioneer’s past pink record of $10.77 million set in 2009. But in 2010, Sotheby’s sold a 24.78-carat pink for $46 million.

The 12.03-carat, internally flawless Blue Moon, described as one of the world’s rarest gems, features a fancy vivid hue that the Gemological Institute of America said “might be so unique as to be indescribable.”

Dug up in January 2014 at South Africa’s fabled Cullinan mine, the Blue Moon’s 29.6-carat rough original sold the following month for $25.6 million. The stone underwent five months of scrutiny by a team of experts before a design was chosen, then three months of artistry by a master cutter.

Cullinan was a 1902 discovery so rich that it threatened De Beers’ hegemony until the giant took over the mine in 1914. Petra Diamonds has operated it since 2008. Cullinan boasts of being the only reliably conflict-free source of blue diamonds.

Sotheby’s sets new records as Blue Moon diamond gets $48.4 million

Ultraviolet light exposes the Blue Moon of
Josephine’s red phosphorescence, “another
extremely rare and fascinating feature of
this diamond,” Sotheby’s noted.

It’s also known for its progeny of other stones of exceptional quality and size. At 3,106 carats, the mine’s namesake Cullinan diamond was the largest rough gem ever recovered. Cut into two magnificent pieces, the Great Star of Africa and the Second Star of Africa, the stone provided the two largest diamonds in the British crown jewels.

Since 1904 the mine has produced nearly 800 stones greater than 100 carats and over a quarter of the world’s diamonds above 400 carats.

Although Canadian rough generally fetches sums well above the global average, the prices and sizes are dwarfed by the most ostentatious bling. Last September Birks offered for sale a $3.69-million, 15.1-carat stone that it called the “largest diamond ever mined in Canada.” That gem originated as a 55.07-carat rough from the Rio Tinto NYE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC Diavik joint venture in the Northwest Territories. But in 2011 BHP Billiton NYE:BHP auctioned the Ekati mine’s 78-carat rough Ekati Spirit for $6.1 million. Dominion, now the mine’s majority owner, calls that stone Ekati’s most significant find. The mine has also coughed up a 182-carat rough that fell short of gem quality.

Diamonds haven’t been the only luxuries attracting the super rich in recent days. On November 9 Christie’s sold Modigliani’s Reclining Nude to a Chinese billionaire couple for $170.4 million, “the second-highest price ever achieved at auction for a work of art,” the Guardian reported. Another Christie’s art auction the following night brought an additional $331.8 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Two days later Sotheby’s was to put more art under the hammer, including an Andy Warhol silkscreen and a Cy Twombly painting with pre-sale estimates of $40 million and over $60 million respectively.

Read about Christie’s Sweet Josephine auction.

See an infographic: Six of the world’s most famous diamonds.

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