Christie’s Auction Preview Reveals Magnificent Jewels

There was a fellow standing on the beach, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, seeing water as far as he could see to the left, to the right, and straight ahead. After a moment of deliberation, he said: “I really thought it would be bigger.” After visiting the preview for Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on April 25, I find that I am that fellow.

The auction billing was correct. It was full of magnificent jewels.

One showcase held a collection of several exquisite art-deco enamel boxes. Another case contained a matched pair of square-emerald-cut diamond earrings, 25 cts. each. In a third case was a jaw-dropping diamond and pearl necklace created by the 100-year-old Indian design firm Bhagat. Its center was an old-style-cut pear-shape diamond weighing 13.31 cts., and it was accented by diamonds in rose cuts, briolettes, and faceted beads as well as a seed-pearl tassel.

The highlights were the Baroda Pearls—a suite of large natural pearls including a double-strand necklace, earrings, brooch, and ring—and a 22.66 ct. Kashmir sapphire.

The suite of natural pearls, once owned by the Indian Maharajas of Baroda, sold for $7,096,000. The centerpiece is a double-strand graduated pearl necklace strung by Cartier using 68 natural pearls from the Maharajas’ collection. The pearls measure from approximately 9.47 mm in the back to 16.04 mm at the center.

The $7 million hammer price is reportedly the largest ever paid for a suite of natural pearls of this size and quality. The sizes of these Oriental pearls were impressive, especially the necklace’s 16 mmcenter pearl. That pearl, an important piece in its own right, has a hammered appearance, as if the nacre had been worked by an oyster with bench training. Also noteworthy were the nacre quality and luster of the earring drops.

Rarity was an important factor in the final sale. Many of the pearls were noticeably off-round, and all were more creamy than off-white. This is not unexpected for natural pearls, but the build-up to the auction created an expectation of something even more impressive.

At the back of the necklace, Cartier added a platinum clasp with a substantial old-mine-cut round brilliant diamond weighing approximately 8.57 cts. Along with the necklace was a pair of ear pendants, so called because each earring highlighted a drop-shape natural pearl, each measuring approximately 13–15 mm wide × 22 mm long, enhanced by old-European-cut and old-mine-cut diamonds, with a button-pearl top, each measuring approximately 12.5 mm wide × 10 mm thick. A brooch set with an oval natural pearl, measuring approximately 17 × 19 × 15 mm, and a natural button-pearl ring rounded out the suite.

The auction also sold a 22.66 ct. blue cushion oval brilliant sapphire, set in a pendant surrounded by old-European-cut diamonds, which went for $3,064,000. The price broke the record for its species, beating the Rockefeller Sapphire, a 66 ct. Burmese stone. The sapphire came with a Gübelin Gem Lab report stating “characteristics consistent with those of sapphires originating from Kashmir” and an AGTA report stating “probable geographic origin is Kashmir.” As one prominent dealer told us, at over $100,000 for a “probable Kashmir” report, imagine how much it could have sold for if the report had said definitively “Kashmir.” (According to the laboratories, these reports mean that the sapphire is, indeed, from Kashmir.)

The 22.66 ct. Kashmir is a magnificent piece. It has great size for Kashmir and wonderful color for blue sapphire. But I was disappointed in the color. Kashmir is supposed to show a milky, sleepy, yet vibrant color. What I saw was beautiful Burmese-like blue.

Whether this sapphire is from Kashmir or Burma is not the point. The point is that it’s beautiful, large, colorful, and rare. “No one really has absolute certainty about the origin of a stone,” says Gübelin’s Daniel Nyfeler, “except God (who does not talk to us on a regular basis) and the miner who took out the stone from the host rock (who is probably not giving an honest answer).”

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