Sell With a Story: Historic Sapphires
This year, we’ll take a look at historic jewels and their owners. Together they have created many fascinating stories. Great gemstones have been gifts of love, greed, alliance, extravagance and debt.
For most, we know little about how they emerged from the earth. Thousands of anonymous miners worked the far-flung mines of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe. In many locations, they worked under extreme conditions.
Famous Jewel, Famous Owner: The Perfect Match
Once unearthed, most large stones pass quickly through many eager hands that cut, polish and ultimately sell them to the powerful and wealthy. Owning a famous jewel adds to the owner’s prestige. And the owner’s fame adds to the jewel’s appeal and value. And to own such a jewel is to own its history.
A Recent Case In Point
Christie’s December 2011 auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s world famous jewelry collection proves the point. It included a striking 500-year-old pearl necklace called La Peregrina. Once owned by Henry the VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary I of England, Christie’s gemological experts expected it to sell for $2 million to $3 million. It sold for $11.8 million. In total, the Taylor collection brought in $156.8 million with some pieces selling for more than ten times their estimated value.
Ultimately, a large gemstone will find itself in the skilled hands of a cutter who may or may not work with a famous jewelry designer such as those at Tiffany’s and Cartier. There it reaches perfection set in a piece of custom jewelry designed to maximize its remarkable color, clarity, and cut.
Because blue sapphires remain one of the most popular gemstones, this month we’ll take a look at three historic stones, two of them set in a pair of earrings.
Queen Marie of Romania’s Sapphire
In November 2003, Christie’s auctioned an enormous sapphire that weighed 478.68 carats. Listed as “Property of a Noble Family,” gemstone connoisseurs knew its provenance well. In 1921, King Ferdinand I of Romania (1865-1927) purchased it from Cartier for his wife, the beautiful Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938), for whom it was named.
Magnificent and historical, the Queen Marie of Romania Sapphire is the largest sapphire ever presented at auction. The cushion cut gem narrows at one end making it an ideal pendant. Cartier’s 1913 records described it as a 478.68-carat sapphire. Not long afterward, they set it in a diamond-accented platinum frame held by floral motifs at three points.
Initially, it formed the focal piece of a diamond sautoir that featured seven other sapphires. Later, the Cartier jewelers removed the smaller sapphires to focus on the large stone. By 1919, when it was exhibited at a prestigious show in San Sebastian, it had changed again into the sautoir worn by Queen Marie.
Queen Marie of Romania
Queen Marie’s parents were Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the only surviving daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Beautiful, high-spirited, and strong-willed, Marie married Prince Ferdinand of Romania, at age 17. Initially, she didn’t like her new country, and her marriage proved a challenge. During a 1913 cholera epidemic and then during the First World War, she volunteered as a nurse and became a true patriot earning the love and admiration of the Romanian people.
Queen Marie had a beautiful jewelry collection kept for her in Russia. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, she lost all of it. With an eye to replacing the lost treasures, King Ferdinand purchased Cartier’s famous sapphire.
When King Michael Sold It
The sapphire remained in Queen Marie’s family until her grandson, King Michael, sold it in 1947. Harry Winston purchased it. A private party bought the sapphire from him and gifted it to a second beautiful monarch, Queen Frederika of Greece. The Greek government abolished the monarchy in 1970 and Queen Frederika went to live with her daughter, Queen Sophia of Spain. Little was known of the jewel until it appeared at a Christie’s auction in November 2003. Offered for sale by “A Noble Family,” we don’t know if this was Queen Frederika’s family or another noble family. It sold to a private buyer for more than $1.4 million. It disappeared from public view until the 2014 Paris exhibition, Cartier: Style and History, when it was displayed for all to see its glory. Then once again, it was gone.
The Richelieu Sapphires
Mined in Kashmir, the source of the finest sapphire, this gorgeous pair of cushion-cut sapphires wandered about until someone realized their real potential. Discovered high up in the Himalayan Mountains following a landslide (circa 1879), the locals traded them for salt and consumer goods. In 1882, Kashmir sapphires appeared in the markets of India’s summer capital, Simla. No doubt someone realized their value and purchased them. The remained out of sight for two decades.
Odile de Richelieu
In 1905, they re-emerged as earrings. Count Gabriel de la Rochefoucauld, Prince de La Rochefoucauld, marked his marriage to Odile de Richelieu with this gift. And what a gift! The velvety cornflower blue sapphires weighed 26.66 and 20.88 carats. Did they remain in her possession throughout the years? It’s hard to know. We do know that she died in1974 and it was some years after that that the world once again saw them.
In 1983, they appeared at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction, sold to aid a charitable foundation. Listed as lot 371, the provenance attributes them to “Property Of A Lady Of Title.” Astonishingly, they sold for $8,538,520 setting an auction record for sapphire jewels, Kashmir sapphire, and price per carat.
We don’t know who bought them, so for now they’ve disappeared. Life being what it is, sooner or later they’ll reappear at auction and have the opportunity to set new records.
Still searching for more about sapphire? Read on about the beautiful blue stone here.