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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Record Breaking Jewelry Moments Worthy of Olympic Gold

Christie’s employees taking phone bids during The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor auction at Christie’s New York. Photo credit: Christie’s

As the 2012 London Summer Olympics winds down, it got me thinking about some of the great moments in history as it pertains to jewelry, gemstones and precious metals. Wealth and power throughout time has often been measured in the ownership of the most valuable and desirable adornment. Often the stories of precious ornaments ran alongside the rise and fall of kingdoms. Below is just short listing of some of the milestone moments. Please feel free to add more.

* The Most Valuable Sale of Jewelry in Auction History. “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” auction held at Christie’s New York in December 2011. Following a worldwide tour and a 10-day exhibition at Christie’s New York, the two-day sale of Ms. Taylor’s jewelry took in approximately $137.2 million. The opening night jewelry sale (December 13) alone set seven world auction records for some of the most important jewels in the world, including:

La Peregrina. Photo credit: Christie's

- The World Auction Record for a Pearl Jewel. “La Peregrina,” one of the most famous pearls in the world with a history that spans 500 years, on a necklace designed by Cartier for Taylor, sold for $11.8 million. It is believed to have been found by an African slave on the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama in the mid-16th Century or as early as the 15th Century. This pear-shaped pearl of 203 grains in size—equivalent to 55 cts.—became part of the crown jewels of Spain. Prince Philip II of Spain gave it as a wedding gift to his wife, Mary Tudor of England. It was passed on to the Spanish queens Margarita and Isabel, who wore the pearl in 17th century portraits painted by Velázquez. Richard Burton famously purchased the pearl for Elizabeth Taylor at auction in 1969 for $37,000, after successfully outbidding a member of the Spanish Royal family. Burton gave the pearl to Taylor on Jan. 23, 1969. Inspired by a 16th century portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, who wore it as a pendant to a brooch, Taylor commissioned Cartier to design a new mount of matched natural pearls and rubies, designed by Al Durante.

Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. Photo credit: Christie's

- The World Auction Record for a Colorless Diamond Per Carat. The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond (also known as the Burton-Taylor Diamond). The 33.19-carat Asscher-cut D color potentially flawless diamond sold for more than $8.8 million, or $265,697 per carat. The 33.19-ct., D color, potentially internally flawless diamond mounted on a ring was a gift from Richard Burton on May 16, 1968. The most iconic of her cherished white diamonds, it became the ring Ms. Taylor wore almost every day. The Type IIa diamond was purchased at auction for $300,000 in 1968 as the Krupp diamond. It is also known as the Taylor-Burton diamond.

Taj Mahal Diamond. Photo credit: Christie's

- The World Auction Record for an Indian Jewel. The heart-shaped Taj Mahal Diamond that sold for more than $8.8 million. Inscribed with the name Nur Jahan, the wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahangir, this heart-shaped diamond is believed to have been a gift from the ruler to his son, who became the great emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666). At the age of 35, it is believed that the young prince presented the diamond to his favorite and most beloved wife, Mumtaz-i-Mahal. The emperor’s grief at her death just four years later was legendary—in her memory he commissioned the majestic Taj Mahal. Richard Burton gave it to Ms. Taylor in 1972 for her 40th birthday.

Joseph Asscher Photo credit: Royal Asscher

* The World’s Largest Rough Diamond. The 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond uncovered in 1907 by Frederick Wells at the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa. Wells presented the diamond to Sir Thomas Cullinan, who owned the mine. Cullinan then sold the diamond to the Transvaal provincial government, which presented the stone to Britain's King Edward VII entrusted the cutting of the Cullinan to Joseph Asscher, head of the Asscher Diamond Company of Amsterdam. Asscher studied the stone for six months before attempting the cut. Legend has it that on his first attempt, the steel blade broke, with no effect on the diamond. On the second attempt, the diamond shattered exactly as planned; Asscher then fainted from nervous exhaustion. Lita Asscher, president of Royal Asscher of America and sixth generation heir to the family business, says her family has their own spin on the story: “We always say that he did not faint. He drank too much champagne (after cutting the diamond) and then he fainted.”

"Star of Africa I," or "Cullinan I" Photo credit: Royal Asscher

* The World’s Largest Cut Diamond. The Cullinan was later cut into nine large stones and about 100 smaller ones. The largest stone is called the "Star of Africa I," or "Cullinan I," and at 530 carats, it is the largest-cut fine-quality colorless diamond in the world. The second largest stone, the "Star of Africa II" or "Cullinan II," is 317 carats. Both of these stones, as well as the "Cullinan III," are on display in the Tower of London with Britain's other crown jewels; the Cullinan I is mounted in the British Sovereign's Royal Scepter, while the Cullinan II sits in the Imperial State Crown.

Cullinan I was the largest diamond in the world until 1987. The Golden Jubilee Diamond now has that honor. At 545.67 carats, it outweighs the Cullinan I by 15.37 carats. The yellow-brown diamond in a fire rose cushion cut was purchased from De Beers by a group led by Henry Ho of Thailand and given to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in honor of his 50th coronation anniversary. It is now located in the Royal Thai Palace as part of the crown jewels.

Faberge Siberian aquamarine and diamond brooch was a gift from Tsar Nicholas II to princess Alix of Hesse. They were executed July 17,1918, and she was wearing the jewel right up until the time of her death. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The World’s Best Story Attached to a Piece of Jewelry. A Siberian aquamarine Fabergé brooch that Russian Tsar Nicholas II gave to princess Alix of Hesse as an engagement gift. I saw this piece at Wartski jewelry antique store in London, best known as the “royal warrant of appointment,” one of a handful of companies that supply goods and services to the British Royal Family. Geoffrey Munn, the store’s managing director Fabergé told the story behind the brooch:

In here we have a Fabergé brooch, a Siberian aquamarine surrounded by diamonds. That’s all we knew for a while. It’s an exemplary aquamarine and it’s of extraordinary color. (women in the group gasp with amazement). I know, I know it’s fabulous. (But) it’s only the beginning of the trouble. Because this really is going to wreck you and you’ll need a stiff drink afterwards. It’s an exemplary aquamarine and it’s a Siberian one and they don’t really come in that color unless they do come from Siberia.… The story of this is really quite awe inspiring because the color blue in the lore of lapidary stones stands for love and then there’s sort of the interlock of two lives with diamonds forever. And that’s all we knew for a very long time until my colleague sent off the number to Russia and back came the provenance and it said that it was bought by the Supreme Autocrat of all the Russias—a pretty hot title—and there’s a note beside it saying it was the engagement present from (Russian Tsar) Nicholas II to princess Alix of Hesse. And that is sort of stratospheric. But then what happens later is even more heartbreaking because when they were taken to prison in Siberia (during the Bolshevik Revolution), they went to a place called The House of Special Purpose—a very menacing title—and you know what happens next but this (the jewel) was with her just before she was taken to the basement and riddled with gunfire. It was confiscated and it isn’t actually open to debate because it was a civil service theft and so they made an inventory of what they’ve taken from her and they photographed it on the table so you don’t hear any fanciful stories. I think possibly that’s as far as jewelry will ever take you.

Tsarevna Swan

* Most Diamonds Set on a Single Ring. Could this be an object that will hold a history of its own? The “Tsarevna Swan,” a tall, highly stylized 18k white gold ring set a Guinness World Record for having the most cut diamonds on a ring: 2,525. It was unveiled in 2011 by the Lobortas Classic Jewellery House of Kiev, Ukraine. Regardless of whether this will capture the imagination of future generations of jewelry collectors, it is a great accomplishment.

As I mentioned, you are welcome add anything that I have missed.

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