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Coronation tiara crowns Geneva jewels auction


A tiara worn at two British coronations and the Star of Egypt diamond that purportedly once belonged to King Farouk sold at auction on Wednesday, crowning a week of dazzling jewellery sales in Geneva.

The historic pieces went under the hammer at Christie's, the day after Sotheby's auction house sold a Bulgari blue diamond for more than $25 million.

Less than a fortnight after the coronation of Britain's King Charles III, bidders fought it out for the Bessborough Diamond Tiara, which was worn at the coronations of King Charles's grandfather King George VI in 1937 and mother Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Vere Ponsonby, the ninth earl of Bessborough, commissioned the Parisian jeweller Chaumet to craft a tiara for his wife to mark his appointment as Canada's governor-general in 1931. She wore it to the coronations.

The platinum Art Deco headpiece sold for 945,000 Swiss francs ($1.06 million).

"This is as iconic as it gets in terms of the style. The workmanship is unbelievable," said Max Fawcett, the head of jewellery at Christie's in Geneva, who sold the tiara.

"It's a piece of art and a piece of history," he told AFP.

The entire Christie's Magnificent Jewels sale totalled nearly 41.2 million Swiss francs ($45.8 million), with 11 of the lots going for more than $1 million each.

- Bulgari diamond nets $25.2 mn -

On Tuesday, Sotheby's held its own Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva, achieving total sales topping 76.7 million Swiss francs ($85.4 million).

The auction was led by the Bulgari Laguna Blu, an 11.16-carat fancy-vivid blue diamond, which fetched 22,625,100 Swiss francs ($25.2 million).

Created in 1970, it was worn in a necklace by the Indian actress Priyanka Chopra to the Met Gala fashion event in New York earlier this month.

It sold after a four-minute battle between one bidder in the room and three by telephone, one of whom ultimately grabbed the gem.

Nearly a quarter of all the lots sold featured coloured gemstones selling far above their high estimates.

"There is no doubt that high-quality high jewellery can still command sky-high prices," said Olivier Wagner, head of jewellery at Sotheby's Geneva.

- Star of Egypt -

The Christie's sale featured the Star of Egypt, the origins of which are shrouded in mystery.

The spectacular unmounted 105.52-carat diamond was reportedly bought in 1850 by the viceroy of Egypt, who sold it in 1880.

It first appeared on the London market in 1939.

It was seemingly later bought by King Farouk, who ruled Egypt from 1936 to 1952. The Star of Egypt was bought alongside jewels known to be in his possession.

It had been in the same family since the 1970s and had never been auctioned before.

It fetched 2,707,000 Swiss francs ($3.02 million) in under three minutes of bidding.

Of the 102 Christie's lots, the one with the highest estimate was a Cartier Belle Epoque natural pearl and diamond devant-de-corsage formerly owned by Australian opera singer Nellie Melba.

Made in around 1902, it was estimated to be worth 2.5 to 3.5 million Swiss francs, but went unsold, failing to attract the minimum sale price.

The highest sale price was achieved by a Chaumet ring featuring an oval-shaped ruby of 13.07 carats and pear-shaped diamonds.

It fetched 4,703,500 Swiss francs ($5.25 million) -- blowing past its estimate of 550,000 to 750,000 francs.

The Christie's sale also featured the largest private collection of Paris-based creator Joel Arthur Rosenthal's JAR jewellery ever to come to auction.

The 28 JAR lots made just over six million Swiss francs ($6.68 million), led by the eye-catching 2011 sapphire, spinel and diamond "eye" bangle, which sold for 856,800 francs ($957,000). — AFP

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