Hammer Time: 12 Jewelry and Watch Auction Lots That Made News in 2020

We weren’t able to gather in person very much in 2020, but that didn’t stop affluent buyers and collectors from bidding on an array of stunning jewels, watches, and once-in-a-lifetime gems in high-profile virtual auctions.

The COVID-19 pandemic stranded all of us—including luxury jewelry and watch buyers—at home for most of the year, curtailing our spending on travel and entertainment.

For big-ticket buyers, funds that previously had gone toward vacations and experiences were suddenly freed up. And auction houses worked diligently to entice those potential buyers to funnel those freed funds into timeless tangible luxuries—by hosting virtual auctions featuring treasure troves of rare, ultra-valuable jewels and watches.

The efforts seemingly paid off: Many auction houses had banner years. Christie’s shared with JCK that in 2020 its online sales increased 143%, and that it’s seen a 241% increase in the value of online jewels sales year over year.

Here are 12 of the year’s top-selling—and most newsworthy—jewelry and watch auction lots of the year:

Christies diamond
28.86 ct. emerald-cut diamond (photo courtesy of Christie’s)

In June, Christie’s established the record for most expensive jewel sold in an online auction when it sold this 28.86 ct. emerald-cut diamond for $2.1 million.

Spirit of the Rose pink diamond
The Spirit of the Rose pink diamond (photo courtesy of Sotheby’s)

The Spirit of the Rose, the world’s largest vivid purple-pink diamond ever to appear at auction, sold for $26.6 million during Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels auction Nov. 11 in Geneva, setting a global auction record for a purple-pink diamond.

Sothebys heart diamond rings
Two fancy vivid diamond rings that together sold for over $18 million (photo courtesy of Sotheby’s)

A pair of exceptionally rare, fancy vivid, heart-shape colored diamonds fetched more than $18 million in July during Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale.

Rolex Daytona JPS reference-6264
Rolex Daytona JPS reference 6264 (photo courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s reeled in $1.5 million for a rare Rolex Daytona JPS in a single-lot online sale in July. The hammer price broke the auction house’s own record for a watch sold in an online auction.

Heuer Ref. 1133
The Le Mans Heuer Monaco reference 1133 (photo courtesy of Phillips)

Phillips’ Racing Pulse sale earlier this month included the auctioning of a Heuer Monaco reference 1133, which was worn by iconic actor Steve McQueen in the racing film Le Mans, for $2.2 million. The sale set the world-record selling price for any Heuer watch.

Rolex Big Red Newman
Rolex “Big Red” Daytona Paul Newman (photo courtesy of Phillips)

In the same sale, a Rolex Daytona known as the “Big Red” that once belonged to Paul Newman (and had an inscription from his wife, Joanne Woodward) sold for $5.5 million. 

Christies fancy blue ring
The most expensive jewel sold all year—a fancy blue diamond ring that went for over $15 million (photo courtesy of Christie’s)

The top lot for Christie’s for the entire year was a fancy intense blue, marquise-cut, internally flawless diamond ring of 12.11 cts., which sold in Hong Kong in July for a stunning $15.9 million.

Graff ruby ring
Graff ruby ring (photo courtesy of Christie’s)

In November, a fancy purplish-red diamond, set into a ring by Graff, sold at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale for $2.8 million, setting a new auction record price per carat (price per carat: $2.6 million).

Kashmir sapphire bracelet Christies
Kashmir sapphire bracelet (photo courtesy of Christie’s)

In Christie’s December New York Magnificent Jewels sale, an extraordinary Kashmir sapphire and diamond bracelet featuring a 43.10 ct. sapphire surrounded by D color internally flawless diamonds was sold for $6 million to Harry Winston, which added it to the brand’s Legacy Collection.

Bonhams Kashmir sapphire
Kashmir sapphire (photo courtesy of Bonhams)

A huge unmounted cushion-shape Kashmir sapphire weighing 9.23 cts. sold for $1.2 million at a Bonhams sale in July. 

Bonhams sapphire set
Sapphire set (photo courtesy of Bonhams)

A Kashmir sapphire and diamond brooch, circa 1910, cushion-shape mixed-cut sapphire, weighing 17.21 cts., fetched $1.1 million in December at Bonhams. 

Bonhams pink ring
Fancy Pink diamond ring (photo courtesy of Bonhams)

An important Fancy Pink diamond and diamond ring went for $1.1 million at a London Bonhams sale in November.

Honorable Mention

Notorious BIG crown
Notorious B.I.G. in his plastic crown (photo courtesy of Sotheby’s)

A 2020 auction item that, depending on your personal perspective, is perhaps even more culturally important than the above jewels and watches was a plastic crown worn by late hip-hop star Notorious B.I.G. that sold for a jaw-dropping $594,750 at Sotheby’s Hip-Hop auction in September. Which undoubtedly sets the world record for a plastic crown.

Top: The Spirit of the Rose pink diamond (photo courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Follow Emili Vesilind on Instagram: @emilivesilind

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JCK Senior Editor

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