|Christie's employees receiving bids by phones.|
NEW YORK - By any measure the first night of the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor auction on Tuesday at Christie’s New York was, as the auction houses often say, exceptional. The auction of some of Elizabeth Taylor’s most precious jewels took in nearly $116 million, a world record for a private collection of jewels.
All 80 lots offered were sold and estimates were shattered then crushed throughout the auction. To the best of my knowledge only two items sold within auction estimates. The rest of the lots made the estimates look like afterthoughts as a jammed room full of bidders competed for items with telephone buyers from around the world.
The auction broke six other world records, including the price achieved for a pearl jewel, the per carat price for a colorless diamond, the price for an Indian jewel, and a ruby per carat.
View the jewels of the auction by following this link.
The big winner of the night was the “La Peregrina,” the 16th Century pearl on a necklace designed by Cartier for Taylor, sold for $11.8 million, setting the world record for a pearl jewel. The pre-auction estimate was $2 million to $3 million. Applause and nervous laughter came from the bidders as the price of the diamond hit the $10 million mark. It was the only 12th lot sold on a day that already started incredibly strong.
La Peregrina upstaged what was expected to be the top lot for the evening, The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. The 33.19-carat Asscher-cut D color potentially flawless diamond set on a ring that Taylor wore nearly everyday, sold for $8.8 million, well above its $2.5 million to $3.5 million estimate.
Less than halfway into the auction it was estimated in the press area that the $30 million pre-auction estimate for the evening was topped. It was a marathon night where rapid, high-speed bidding was offset by long pauses as prices reached levels that few could have imagined. The auction was led by two of Christie’s jewelry experts, beginning with Francois Curiel, Christie's Asia president and longtime head of Christie’s jewelry department who came in from his post in Hong Kong; followed by Rahul Kadakia, head of Christie’s jewelry department in the Americas.
At one point Curiel said, “I don’t know where to start. Should I ask you? Maybe I’ll start at $10 million.”
The Taj Mahal Diamond, a gift from Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor for her 40th birthday sold for $8.8 million. The heart-shaped diamond is believed to have been owned by emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666). He presented the diamond to his favorite and most beloved wife, Mumtaz-i-Mahal. The emperor’s grief at her death just four years later inspired him to commission the majestic Taj Mahal in her memory. The estimate was $300,000 - $500,000.
A Bulgari 18.26-carat emerald and diamond pendant brooch sold for $6.5 million, spectacularly above the $500,000 to $700,000 estimate.
It was a big night for Bulgari. An emerald and diamond necklace sold for $6.1 million, well above its $1 million to $1.5 million estimate. This was followed by a sapphire and diamond sautoir that sold for $5.9 million, smashing the high estimate of $800,000.
Van Cleef & Arpels also had a big night. A ruby and diamond ring, a gift from Burton, sold for $4.2 million, a world record for a ruby per carat.
The Mike Todd Diamond Tiara, which made some of the women weak in the knees, sold for $4.2 million, totally smashing its estimate $60,000 to $80,000 estimate.
A Bulgaria emerald and diamond bracelet sold for just over $4 million.
Cartier also had a great night. A ruby and diamond necklace from the Parisian luxury jewelry house sold for $3.7 million, smashing its $200,000 to $300,000 estimate.
At the brief press conference that followed, Curiel was asked to explain why the prices for the jewelry were so far above the actual prices. He explained that the items were priced according to their “intrinsic value” and not based on Taylor’s celebrity appeal.
“We wanted to let the market decide what premium to pay over the value of the stones or the value of the stones or the value of the jewels,” he said.
The market decided.