There's no denying the stardust that hovered over Christie's New York Dec. 13, when collectors, dealers, and acolytes gathered for the sale of Elizabeth Taylor's treasure trove of jewelry. The tone of the sale—the first in a four-day series featuring the actress' jewelry, haute couture, decorative arts, and film memorabilia—was set by the very first lot, a charm bracelet that achieved a stunning $326,500. But that was nothing compared with the evening's top lots: the $11.8 million La Peregrina pearl, the $8.8 million Taj Mahal Diamond, and the $8.8 million Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. (One observer called the scene "a souvenir hunt for very wealthy people.") When results from days one and two of the Legendary Jewels sale were tallied, the total was $137,235,575—officially the most valuable jewelry sale in auction history. "We valued every item on its intrinsic value," explained a clearly delighted François Curiel, Christie's international head of jewels. "What would it bring without Elizabeth Taylor?"
Moments collection silver bracelet, $95, with silver and 14k gold clips, $60–$195 each; Pandora, Columbia, Md.; 410-309-0200; pandora.net
From shoes to…charms? Bead powerhouse Pandora made a pretty dramatic left turn in December with its choice for a new CEO, hiring Björn Gulden, who most recently served as president and CEO of two U.S. footwear chains: Rack Room Shoes and Off Broadway Shoes. Gulden replaces Mikkel Vendelin Olesen, who resigned following plummeting sales and profits. Interestingly, the new chief's resume includes a stint as a professional soccer player, before his career was ended by a serious injury. Hopefully, Gulden will have better luck healing the wounded but still important jewelry company.
Robert Weldon, © GIA
Trade groups united in December with an urgent message: Glass-filled ruby is out there, and it's not being disclosed. Six associations (American Gemological Laboratories, American Gem Trade Association, Gem Research Swisslab, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America, and the New York Gemstone Association) published a consumer advisory citing an increase of lead-glass–filled rubies in the marketplace. They say the gems are often sold without proper disclosure and require special care—e.g., avoiding heat, acids, cleaning agents, and even lemon juice. This spells trouble for retailers who buy rubies and ruby jewelry from little-known sources or take in stones for repairs or resizing. Says gemologist Antoinette Matlins: "These are not like any other ruby."
Looks like Santa wasn't the only one working overtime in December. Jewelers to the stars were busy crafting spotlight-worthy engagement rings for all the celebs affianced during, as Andy Williams sang, "the most wonderful time of the year": country star Wynonna Judd and Cactus Moser; actor Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves; NBA legend Michael Jordan and Yvette Prieto; Aerosmith front man/American Idol judge Steven Tyler and Erin Brady; Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Savannah Brinson; Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and William "Willie" Wilkerson; and actress Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman. Barrymore is sporting a nearly 4 ct. radiant-cut stone on a diamond band by Graff; Tyler turned to self-professed rock-and-roll jeweler Loree Rodkin for a 5 ct. brilliant-cut diamond on a micro-pavé–studded platinum band. What do you suppose the grooms-to-be have in store for Valentine's Day?
First, there was dirty gold. Then conflict gold. And now, we may have child labor gold. On Dec. 5, the NBC newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams aired a two-part report on the artisanal gold sector in Mali, which showed that, as the price of gold rises, the sector has become a magnet for children. These underage workers, the program said, not only are paid little for their work, but are exposed to possibly toxic mercury and other physical hazards. Correspondent Richard Engel advised gold customers to "ask questions and demand a [traceable] supply chain." The report's timing may be just right. The Responsible Jewellery Council recently announced plans to certify companies' "chains of custody" for gold. (For more on chains of custody, see "Chain of Custody Battle.")
6. Kimberley Process
Evgeny Terentev/Getty Images
In December, the Kimberley Process was dealt what must be considered the most serious blow in its history when founding NGO Global Witness decided it would no longer participate as an observer. In the Dec. 5 statement announcing its departure, the London-based group cited a litany of familiar complaints, including the certification scheme's November approval of diamond shipments from the Marange region of Zimbabwe. Many in the industry decried the move. "You cannot contribute to the process if you are no longer engaged," said World Diamond Council president Eli Izhakoff.
7. De Beers
It's taken six years, many court cases, and a lot of false promises, but money may be coming soon to claimants in the De Beers class-action antitrust suit. On Dec. 20, the en banc panel of the Court of Appeals of the Third Circuit affirmed the $300 million settlement reached in 2006, overturning an earlier court ruling that put the judgment in limbo. This leaves objecting lawyers with only one option: appealing to the Supreme Court, which isn't likely. "I think this litigation is finally behind us," says New York University professor Samuel Issacharoff.
8. World Records
A ring inspired by a classic Russian fable about a swan that transforms into a princess has set a Guinness World Record for containing the most set diamonds. Studded with 2,525 cut stones in 18k white gold, the Tsarevna Swan ring was designed by Lobortas Classic Jewelry House, a manufacturer based in Kiev, Ukraine, where it was presented and photographed on July 21, according to Guinness. Gene Davidov, the American distributor for Lobortas, says the ring, which was valued at $1.3 million, was designed three years ago and took about a year to complete. It was, he says, "intended as a showpiece."
Sandro Art and Photography
The entertainment at the 24 Karat Club dinner, generally a tightly held secret until the last possible moment, has garnered a mixed reputation over the years, with organizers generally favoring well-known but older acts of the Liza Minnelli/Kenny Rogers variety. This year, however, comedian Howie Mandel proved an unexpected hit, slaying the crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria with a frenetic hour of material that was slightly raunchier than the typical 24 Karat fare. The Deal or No Deal host even got a few clever digs at the industry, ribbing the host organization for not letting women in until 1987 and gently grilling Phyllis Bergman about the length of her marriage. Hey, Howie—deal!
Source: Jewelers' Security Alliance
For the industry, the news on the crime front was very mixed in 2011, according to the Jewelers' Security Alliance's preliminary report, with jewelry crime-related incidents jumping to 1,459, from 1,352 the previous year. The increase was driven by a huge spike in armed robberies, says JSA president John Kennedy. Losses from robberies climbed dramatically as well. However, the number of off-premises losses continued to sink, in large measure because there are fewer salespersons on the road. And arrests hit an all-time high, reaching 651. "There will be a constant battle to fight crime that will never be over," Kennedy says."In some years and quarters you win some battles, but the war rages on."