Christie's is gearing up to sell Leonore 'Lee' Annenberg's giant diamond ring in New York as part of their October jewels auction. The Annenberg Diamond is currently on a whistle-stop tour around Geneva, London, Hong Kong and Los Angeles in search of buyers who feel that the estimated tag of $3 to $5 million is within their price range.
The Annenberg and its supporting lots touched down in London for less than two days this week before being securely shipped to Hong Kong. At a press preview, held in a paneled room in Christie's King Street, London jewelry department head Keith Penton and his New York counterpart, Rahul Kadakia, showed off some of the more interesting gems under the watchful eye of a security guard.
The world tour is emblematic of why fine jewelry might be weathering the recession. Christie's are not taking their wares to their station in Dubai, but potential customers from the Gulf showed up when the gem stopped off in Geneva. Its brief Hong Kong sojourn coincides with the start of the popular September Hong Kong Jewelry & Gem Fair.
Billionaire's Ring To Crown Christie's Sale
Luca Solca, a luxury goods analyst at Sanford Bernstein in London says customers in the Middle East and Asia are still happy to spend. "The high-end luxury goods market has been resilient," he said, "mostly due to the emerging markets consumer supporting it."
Regardless of the eventual buyer's background, the Annenberg has an all-American pedigree.
Forbes listed Lee Annenberg the day before her death this March as the world's 430th richest person, with a net worth of $1.7 billion. As former President Ronald Reagan's chief of protocol and wife of publishing magnate and later U.S. ambassador to London Walter H. Annenberg, she led an exceptionally glamorous life. A prominent philanthropist--the Annenberg Foundation has given away billions since its founding in 1989--with connections to numerous high-profile galleries and cultural centers on both sides of the Atlantic, she clearly also had good taste in jewelry.
Christie's is betting her name will enhance what is already an utterly flawless stone. The Annenberg Diamond, an emerald-cut (square) gem, which is a top D-color, or completely colorless, weighs in at a vast 32.01 carats. Mined in South Africa and mounted as a ring designed by jeweler David Webb, it is flanked by two pear-shaped diamonds of 1.50 and 1.61 carats. Its closest competitor at the auction is a Tiffany and Co. diamond ring owned by the late New York socialite Lillian Booth, which is a G-color stone weighing a substantial 21.42 carats.
The October auction actually consists of two separate sales of more than 38 lots: one focusing more on signed pieces and the second on period jewels and objets d'art. Alongside primarily collectors' pieces like the enamel, star sapphire and diamond Lalique 'Thistle' jewels, a tiny Cartier panther, ornate vanity boxes and cufflinks are several examples of more modern pieces from the top names in jewelry. A highly wearable Harry Winston diamond and emerald necklace from 1956, with an 18.95 carat old Indian emerald as its centerpiece, has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.
Other highlights include the Taj Mahal emerald, dating back to the mid-17th century, so-called because the intricate carving on the large hexagon resembles the Mughal reliefs in Agra. It was formerly part of a grand Cartier shoulder ornament called the Collier Bernice, and should sell for over a million dollars, estimates Christie's. A Boucheron perfume bottle in the shape of a cat with emerald eyes is also on offer.
Despite all the sparkle and shine surrounding it, the star of the show remains the Annenberg. The Gemological Institute of America estimates that out of 100 million carats each year worldwide, no more than 600 crystals finish D-color and with a weight of 1 to 2 carats. The chances of finding such a crystal of over 32 carats are therefore very small.
The Annenberg will not break the $24.3 million that Laurence Graff needed to buy the 35.56 Wittelsbach blue diamond in December 2008. But Christie's thinks that it's particularly special, and not just because the stone itself is matchless. "The provenance is even more impeccable than the stone is," said Christie's Kadakia. "You can't put a price on provenance."
Elinor Buxton, 09.18.09, 6:00 PM ET