The heirs of the late Italian senator Renato Angiolillo are suing Christie’s, claiming it sold stolen property when it auctioned the Princie Diamond for $39.3 million in 2013.
At the time of the sale of the 34.65 ct. fancy intense pink cushion-cut stone to an anonymous buyer, it was the most expensive jewel ever sold in the auction house’s history and the most expensive jewel ever sold at auction in the U.S.
In papers filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Angiolillo’s heirs, including his son and grandchildren, claim that they had notified Christie’s prior to the auction that the diamond had been stolen from them.
The trail of custody of the gem is a bit confusing, as custody battles of gems (and anything, really) can be. When Angiolillo died in Italy in 1973, his second wife, Maria Girani, received custody but not ownership of several gems, including the Princie Diamond. When she died in 2009, the Angiolillo heirs requested the gems to be returned, but her son, Marco Oreste Bianchi Milella, said the gems were not found among her possessions. The Angiolillo family went to Italian police and had them open a case to find the missing gems.
Upon learning of the impending Christie’s auction featuring the Princie Diamond, the family claims it contacted Christie’s through a lawyer and relayed that it was “a great likelihood, almost a certainty” that the diamond was stolen property. Christie’s said it believed that its seller had valid title to the stone.
Meanwhile in Italy, Italian police seized from Milella other gems of the lot owned by the Angiolillo famly but lent to Girani.
This lawsuit claims that, even if Swiss law sanctioned the title transfer, New York law renders it moot because there was involuntary transfer (from the Angiolillo family to Milella).
The family wants either the return of the diamond or the market value of the diamond plus damages.
A Christie’s spokesperson said in a statement: “We find the filing to be without merit; this stems from a long-standing and highly contentious dispute among family members who claim to be heirs of a past owner of the diamond. Prior to Christie’s sale of the Princie in 2013, the two main representatives of the family had expressly withdrawn any objection to the sale. They are well aware that the seller of the stone had held full and clear title to the item for several years.”
The full complaint is available here.