A 2023 Year at Auction

Whether it’s a sparkling diamond, a remarkable gemstone bracelet, a vintage piece by a global brand, or an antique tiara with a story to tell, these treasures can often be found at an auction.

Written by Jewellery World

By Cynthia Unninayar

Each piece of jewellery tells a story of its own journey, one that speaks to the creativity of its maker, the taste of its previous owners, and the cultural milieu in which it was created. Whether it’s a sparkling diamond, a remarkable gemstone bracelet, a vintage piece by a global brand, or an antique tiara with a story to tell, these treasures can often be found at an auction, where collectors, connoisseurs, and enthusiasts vie for the chance to acquire a piece of history. This article takes a brief look at some of the jewels that sold—or not—in 2023.

“The auctions this past year saw many incredible jewels change hands, including many historically important pieces,” comments Ioannis Alexandris, chief executive officer of Gemolithos. As an antique jewellery specialist and gem dealer, he attends most of the world’s major sales and even has the privilege of having hands-on inspections of the pieces. 

He highlights that some of the standouts this past year were in the categories of coloured diamonds, historical jewels, famous contemporary pieces, celebrity-linked jewellery, exquisite rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. In terms of price, he has seen a general increase across the board however, there have been some surprises along the way. One in particular, Alexandris points out, was the spectacular 25.59-carat Sunrise Ruby that sold at Christie’s for CHF 13.06 million (≈USD 14.93 million), which was less than half the price it sold for in 2015 at USD 30.43 million, a record-breaker at the time.

Another remarkable ruby was the 55.22-carat Estrella de FURA, mined by FURA Gems in Mozambique. The world’s largest gem-quality ruby ever discovered, it displays a vivid red Pigeon’s Blood hue, traditionally associated with Burmese rubies. It sold at Sotheby’s for USD 34.8 million. Not all remarkable gems found buyers, however, such as the magnificent 16.05-carat Burmese Mythic Ruby, estimated at USD 10.4 million to 15.6 million.

For emeralds, Alexandris notes a general rise in prices, most notably for Colombian emeralds. One example was a 17.43-carat Colombian emerald ring by Harry Winston that sold at Christie’s for the equivalent of nearly USD two million. For sapphires, he says, “they are showing rising demand and higher prices, especially from Kashmir, but Ceylon, Burmese, and Madagascan gems are doing well.” Of note was the unheated 28.55-carat Royal Blue Kashmir gem that sold at Christie’s Geneva for the equivalent of USD 3.6 million.

In the diamond category, the fancy blues led the way, with the 11.6-carat Laguna Blu by Bulgari fetching CHF 22.6 million (≈USD 25 million), while the 17.61-carat Bleu Royal realised CHF 39.5 million (≈USD 45 million). The pinks held their own as exemplified by the 10.57-carat Eternal Pink, garnering USD 34.8 million.  

This past year also saw important historic pieces come to auction, among them were jewels from the collection of Archduchess Margarete Sophie of Austria, Duchess of Württemberg (1870-1902), that included a superb Victorian ruby and diamond brooch that sold for CHF 355,600 (≈USD 390,000), nearly three times its high estimate. A beautiful Belle Époque devant de corsage from the collection of Archduchess Marie Therese of Austria-Teschen, Duchess of Württemberg (1845-1927) more than doubled its estimate, selling for CHF 1.05 million (≈USD 1.15 million). Another historical piece was a natural pearl and diamond tiara from the collection of Princess Maria Immaculata, Archduchess of Austria-Tuscany (1844-1899), which also doubled its high estimate. Selling for 12 times its high estimate was an important Victorian diamond star brooch from the collection of Wilhelm, Duke of Württemberg (1828-1896).

“The jewels from these collections are noteworthy examples of how their narratives are part of history,” affirms Alexandris. “Their sales prices ranged from double to twelve times their high estimates, showing that provenance and particular stories are important to buyers.” 

In 2023, an abundance of JAR jewels came to auction, with most selling within estimates and even near the lower end. He says, “Too many came to market, so the lower prices were not unexpected.” However, he also says, “Three pairs of JAR’s earrings, created especially for American icon Barbara Walters, attracted much interest and sold above their high estimates at Bonhams.”

Pieces from other celebrities also went under the hammer in 2023. A variety from the Frank and Barbara Sinatra estate included a 20.60-carat D-colour, VVSI diamond ring that sold for just under USD one million. The estate of the cherished American actress Mary Tyler Moore included 21 pieces mainly from well-known brands, all exceeding estimates. Beloved American comedian, Red Skeleton collected a variety of jewellery, and among those that sold last year from his estate was a remarkable Burmese pink sapphire ring, estimated at USD 120,000 to 150,000, which surprised many by selling for more than USD one million. At Sotheby’s auction of hip-hop memorabilia, a ring designed by rap legend Tupac surpassed its estimate of USD 200,000 to also bring in more than USD one million. 

In essence, jewellery auctions represent a convergence of history, luxury, culture, and fame, where the pursuit of the extraordinary is celebrated. Stepping into the captivating world of jewellery auctions, we never know what treasures will await at next year’s auctions.

This fancy vivid-blue, pear-shaped, brilliant-cut, internally flawless, type IIb, 17.61-ct Bleu Royal sold at Christie’s Geneva for CHF 39,505,000.

Fancy vivid purplish-pink, internally flawless, type IIa, the 10.57-ct Eternal Pink is the most vivid pink diamond to come to market. It sold at Sotheby’s New York for USD 34,804,500.

The beautiful 16.05-ct Mythic Ruby was estimated at USD 10.4 million to 15.6 million but did not find a buyer at Christie’s Hong Kong auction.

This historically important Belle Époque devant-de-corsage, with natural pearls and diamonds (circa 1865), from the collection of Archduchess Marie Therese of Austria-Teschen, Duchess of Württemberg (1845-1927), sold at Sotheby’s Geneva for CHF 1,054,100, nearly double its high estimate.

Custom-created by JAR for American icon Barbara Walters, this pair of earrings featuring rubellites, garnets, tourmalines, and diamonds, sold at Bonhams New York for USD 203,700.

Formerly from the collection of Frank and Barbara Sinatra, this 20.60-ct, D-colour, VVSI, diamond ring sold for just under USD one million at Sotheby’s New York.

One of the USA’s most talented comedians, Red Skeleton appreciated fine jewellery. This exceptional Burmese pink sapphire and diamond ring, from the estate of Mr and Mrs Richard ‘Red’ Skeleton, sold at Sotheby’s New York for USD 1,092,800, more than seven times its high estimate.

This gold, ruby, and diamond ring was designed in 1996 by rap legend Tupac Shakur, who modelled it after the crowns of medieval European kings. It exceeded its high estimate of USD 300,000 to reach over USD 1,016,000 at Sotheby’s New York, the highest price for a hip-hop item to date.

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