From the mantle, Myanmar and Mars, rare rocks go on the auction block
by Greg Klein
These have been the days of the $22-million no-sale, the ruby-red beauty of Burma and the scream from outer space. Over two days, two rival auction houses offered up some of the most exceptional stones known to this planet and others.
The much-anticipated main event at Sotheby’s April 19 Magnificent Jewels sale lasted less than a minute before the hammer came down on an anti-climactic $22 million. The auctioneer rejected the bid and withdrew the lot, having wanted something in the range of $25 million to $35 million. Such was the optimism inspired by the Shirley Temple Blue diamond, a 9.54-carat, potentially internally flawless, cushion-cut fancy stone once owned by the child phenom.
Still, $22 million was a tad more than the $7,210 paid by Temple’s dad in 1940. But extraordinary expectations have been provoked by some extraordinary prices.
Earlier this month Sotheby’s unloaded the De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 in Hong Kong for $31.8 million, a record price for Asia. In November Christie’s auctioned the 16.08-carat Sweet Josephine for $28.5 million. The following day the same buyer—a father rather more extravagant than Temple’s—paid Sotheby’s “a new record price for any gemstone and per carat” for the $48.4-million Blue Moon of Josephine.
This time around Sotheby’s performed relatively modestly, selling five items for over $1 million each, with the top-selling lot getting $4.56 million. That was for a “magnificent platinum and fancy purplish pink diamond ring” that came in close to the $5-million maximum estimate. In all, the auction pulled in nearly $29.89 million. But the Shirley Temple disappointment held the total far back from that of a Sotheby’s event 12 months earlier, which raked in a record $65.08 million.
Christie’s came much closer to that figure just one day after the Shirley Temple got shelved. That rival Magnificent Jewels auction offered 255 items and totalled nearly $57.03 million. Starring the show was the 15.99-carat Jubilee ruby. “To find an almost circular cut, unheated gem weighing more than 15 carats, with near-perfect crystallization is the dream of every gemstone connoisseur,” oozed the auctioneer. Set in a gold and diamond ring, the Jubilee sold for $14.16 million, well inside the hoped-for $12-million to $15-million range.
Another bidder put up $8.84 million for a 10.07-carat “fancy intense purple-pink diamond” mounted in a platinum and gold ring. With a pre-sale estimate of $8 million to $12 million, that gem also sold within expectations.
As did a $7.22-million, 40.43-carat round brilliant-cut diamond that was estimated between $7 million and $10 million.
While Christie’s New York was peddling opulence, Christie’s London was marketing meteorites. Prices hovered much closer to earth, however—between $267 for “a corner cut of the Toulon meteorite” and $62,213 for the Tirhert, “a meteorite which never hit Earth.” A Moroccan kid found it wedged between tree branches.
But no matter how exotic, the more expensive extra-terrestrial stuff got consigned to inventory.
Bidders passed up souvenirs of Mars, one of which Christie’s hoped would bring up to $355,500 and another up to $639,900. Similarly spurned was the “world’s largest oriented meteorite with extra-terrestrial gemstones.” That was further described as “encompassing an enormous aggregate of extra-terrestrial olivine and peridot in a steel-blue patina dappled with mango accents.”
Christie’s wanted somewhere between $711,000 and $1.13 million for the 650-kilogram chunk of rock, arguably a bargain compared to those earthly objects measured in mere carats. And they’re not even dappled with mango accents.
Another non-mover was “an otherworldly evocation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.” Naturally formed, Christie’s insists, the 179-kilogram space oddity came with an aspired but unrealized price between $213,300 and $355,500.
The auction totalled just $817,601 for 44 meteorites, leaving nearly three dozen unsold. Evidently aficionados prefer the products of domestic geology. Maybe there’s still something to be said for this planet after all.
Next month Christie’s and Sotheby’s plan to separate big spenders from their loot in Geneva. Sotheby’s set a hopeful $28-million to $38-million target for the 15.38-carat Unique Pink diamond, while Christie’s talks of up to $45 million for the 14.62-carat Oppenheimer Blue.
Assuming there are takers, how does one explain such extravagance?
“Even though there may be a general economic malaise, a lot of people are making a lot of money and are very cash-rich,” David Bennett told Rapaport Magazine. As chairperson of Sotheby’s jewelry division, he conducted the Blue Moon auction and several other high-profile sales.
“Fine gemstones have always been something that people consider having in their portfolio of investments,” he added. “If they are going to buy something, they want to buy the rarest, the best.”