Top 10 pieces of jewellery ever sold at auction
June 15, 2019
Jewellery has represented wealth and sophistication for millennia. The ancient Egyptians used gold to help distinguish the rich and powerful, while the Romans used precious stones to help communicate status and wealth.
Today, jewellery is still regarded as the ultimate symbol of wealth. Coloured diamonds are highly coveted by collectors and the historical significance of some pieces can add greatly to their value. This makes such pieces a sound investment if you can find them.
But to the uninitiated, one diamond ring looks very much like another. So how do you know which pieces have the best investment potential? To find out, let’s take a look at the ten most expensive pieces of jewellery ever sold at auction:
Pink Star Diamond Ring – £57.3 million
Mounted on a platinum four-pronged ring, the Pink Star Diamond is an ultra-rare 59.60-carat ‘fancy pink vivid’ diamond mined in South Africa by De Beers in 1999. The stone was meticulously cut over a two year period to create the ultimate flawless pink diamond. So this ultra-rare and giant gemstone was sure to create a storm when it came up for sale at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong in April 2017.
After frenzied early bidding from three buyers, the hammer finally came down at £57.3 million, making it the most expensive diamond ring in the world. The lucky buyer was Chinese jeweller Chow Tai Fook Enterprises who bought the ring and renamed it the CTF Pink Star in memory of the company’s founder, Dr Cheng Yu-Tung.
Oppenheimer Blue Diamond ring – £40 million
The Oppenheimer Blue is the largest vivid blue diamond ever to come on the market. The stone is set alongside two trapeze-cut diamonds on a platinum five blade ring and named after Sir Philip Oppenheimer, whose family owned the De Beers Mining Company. Oppenheimer was very secretive and little was known about the ring until after his death in 1995.
So when it came up for auction at Christies Geneva in May 2016, it caused quite a stir. After an initial flurry of bidders, just two determined buyers were left to battle it out. They traded blows for close to 20 minutes before the hammer finally came down at £40 million. This is the highest price ever achieved for a blue diamond ring.
The Pink Legacy diamond ring – £38.5 million
The Pink Legacy is another piece once owned by the Oppenheimer family. The ring is set with a rare emerald-cut fancy pink diamond weighing 18.96-carats, flanked by two clear diamonds on each side. The large pink stone was described by Christie’s international head of jewellery Rahul Kadakia as “one of the world’s greatest diamonds” when it came up for sale at Christie’s Geneva in November 2018.
All pink diamonds are rare and incredibly valuable, but what makes the Pink Legacy special is its even colour distribution and balanced saturation. This qualifies it as a ‘fancy vivid’ stone by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), a designation which only 1 in a million diamonds achieve.
So naturally, there was strong competition for this beautiful, rare and elegant piece when it came up for auction. After just five minutes of furious bidding, the hammer came down at £38.5 million. The buyer was identified as none other than U.S. jewellery house Harry Winston.
The Blue Moon of Josephine diamond ring – £31.7 million
The centrepiece of this ring is a blue diamond weighing 12.03-carat. Blue diamonds make up just 0.1% of diamond production, so any blue diamond is rare and valuable. But this particular blue diamond is also rated as flawless.
Almost all diamonds contain microscopic elements of non-crystallised carbon which show up as dark flecks when inspected under a microscope. But the Blue Moon of Josephine contains no such inclusions and has been officially classified as flawless by the GIA.
So when it came up for sale at Sotheby’s Geneva in October 2011, it attracted buyers from across the world. As expected, bidding was fierce for the plain set diamond ring. The reserve of $35 million was soon met and the price kept on climbing. When the hammer finally came down it had reached a record $46m (£31.7 million).
The buyer was identified as Hong Kong property magnate Joseph Lau, who renamed it ‘The Blue Moon of Josephine’ after his daughter.
The Graff Pink diamond ring – £29 million
The Graff Pink was originally sold by celebrity jeweller Harry Winston to a private collector in the 1950s. The centrepiece of the ring is an emerald-cut pink diamond weighing 24.78-carat. This is set using a traditional three stone shoulder setting alongside two smaller clear diamonds on a silver crafted ring.
This beautiful piece came up for sale at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva, November 2010. The eventual buyer was Lawrence Graff, founder of London Diamond Merchants, Graff Diamonds. Following the sale, Graff renamed the ring the ‘Graff Pink’ and described it as “the most fabulous diamond I’ve seen in the history of my career.”
Cartier Sunrise Ruby ring £19.6 million
The centrepiece of this ring is a cushion cut ruby of Burmese origin set in a traditional three-stone shoulder setting flanked by two shield-shaped diamonds. The first non-diamond to appear in this list, the Cartier Sunrise Ruby (named after a poem of the same name by Rumi), is described as having a highly attractive colour and fine purity.
At 25.59-carat the central stone is one of the largest rubies ever to come on the market, so there was strong competition when it came up for auction at Sotheby’s Geneva sale in May 2015. The final sale price was £19.6 million, making it the most expensive ruby ever and the highest price ever achieved for a gemstone other than a diamond.
The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond ring – £16.40 million
The Wittelsbach-Graff diamond is as much a piece of history as it is a piece of jewellery. This fancy deep bluish-grey diamond once formed the centrepiece of the Crown of Bavaria until it was sold by the Wittelsbach family in 1931.
Mined in Golkonda, India, the first recording of the jewel was in 1686 when it was listed as part of the Habsburg family estate. The diamond then transferred to the Bavarian Wittelsbach family as part of a dowry when Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria married Charles of Bavaria.
It remained in the Wittelsbach family until 1931 when it was sold to a private collector. It remained in private hands until December 2008 when it came up for auction at Christie’s. The eventual buyer was London diamond merchant Lawrence Graff, who paid £16.4 million for it.
Following the purchase, Graff did something controversial. He had the stone recut to enhance its clarity and colour and set into a four-pronged platinum ring. In its original form, the diamond weighed 35.56-carat but is reported to have lost 4.45-carat following the cut. It didn’t lose any value though. Graff is reported to have sold the piece to the Emir of Qatar for a cool $80 million.
The Perfect Pink Diamond ring – £15.08 million
The centrepiece of this ring is a large pink diamond which was the only pink diamond ever to have been graded as fancy vivid pink when it was sold in 2010. That made this a very special piece indeed. So it was no surprise when it came up for auction that it achieved a price far higher than its estimate.
The 14.23-carat diamond is set on an 18k rose gold ring in a traditional shoulder setting flanked by two clear diamonds on each side. It is an elegant piece with art deco undertones which hark back to the roaring twenties. But it is the stone’s superb vivid colour which really sets this piece apart.
The ring came up for auction at Christie’s Hong Kong on November 20th 2010. The bidding was fierce with four buyers still in the action right up until the hammer fell. The final price was £15.08 million, a 30% premium on the higher estimate, and a record for a pink diamond at the time.
Martian Pink Diamond ring – £11.1 million
The Martian Pink was created by celebrity jeweller Harry Winston in 1976 after being inspired by NASA’s Viking mission to photograph the surface of Mars. The centrepiece of the ring is a large 12.04-carat pink diamond graded as ‘fancy vivid’ pink with VS1 clarity. The stone is plain mounted on a four-pronged 18k gold ring size 7.
Only one in 10 million pink diamonds get graded as ‘fancy vivid’ so this piece was sure to create a lot of excitement when it came up for auction. The sale was handled by Christie’s Hong Kong, due to the fact that coloured diamonds often achieve higher prices in Asian markets. The sale lasted just six minutes with the hammer coming down at £11.1 million.
Bulgari Two-Stone coloured diamond ring – £10.2 million
Why buy one diamond when you can have two? This exquisite ring created by Bulgari in 1972 contains two giant diamonds. One an ultra-rare fancy vivid Blue diamond weighing 10.95-carats and the other a triangular cut almost flawless clear diamond weighing 9.87 carats.
The diamonds are mounted on an 18k gold band set with five baguette-cut clear diamonds in a half-hoop. Despite the ring containing seven diamonds in total, much of its value can be attributed to the blue diamond. One of only a handful of blue diamonds to be rated as fancy vivid blue, it is considered to be one of the finest blue diamonds in existence.
The Bulgari Two Stone came up for auction at Christie’s New York on May 19th, 2010. There was a three-way battle for the ring right up until the hammer came down. The final price for this unusual and beautiful ring was £10.2 million. The buyer was listed as a private Asian Collector.
As you can see, the most valuable pieces of jewellery contain large coloured diamonds. To achieve a high price the diamond must be chemically pure, have few (if any) imperfections and be cut in a way which emphasises the fire, sparkle and brilliance of the colour. The actual setting of the piece has little effect on its value.
The second most important aspect when valuing fine jewellery is provenance. Any piece which was has proven historical significance will add greatly to its value. If you can combine both you are sure to have a very valuable piece of jewellery indeed. The Wittelsbach-Graff diamond is a good example.
If you have a piece of fine jewellery and would like to know how much it’s worth, get in touch with our jewellery appraisal team today. Our specialists have a combined 60 years of experience appraising some of the rarest and most valuable jewellery collections in the UK.
For more information on services provided by New Bond Street Pawnbrokers please watch our video here and read about the loan process here. You can bring your pieces to us for appraisal or we can arrange for one of our specialists to visit your home. Arrange an appointment using our contact form or give us a call on 020 7493 0385.
To learn more about our loans on fine art you can visit our diamonds or fine jewelry dedicated webpages. We offer loans against the following types of diamonds: 2 carat, baguette cut, blue diamonds, cushion cut, emerald cut, fancy color, marquise cut, old cut, oval cut, pear cut, pink, princess cut, and GIA certified diamonds. Similarly, some of the many loans we offer are against various types of fine jewellery: diamond earrings, diamond necklaces, diamond rings, and fine brands of diamond jewelery such as Graff, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Harry Winston , Tiffany and Cartier to name just a few.