Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pink 'champagne' diamond fetches record $46 million

A rare pink diamond fetched 45.44 million Swiss francs ($45.75 million) on Tuesday, virtually doubling the previous record to become the most expensive stone ever sold at auction, Sotheby's said.

The rectangular step-cut pink diamond, which weighs 24.78 carats and is about the size of a pinball, was the star lot among nearly 500 on the block at semi-annual jewellery sales in Geneva.

Top diamond trader Laurence Graff, bidding by telephone, was the buyer of the diamond which is mounted in a platinum ring, Sotheby's said in a statement.

"It is a world record price for a jewel at auction," said David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby's jewellery department in Europe and the Middle East, as he brought down the hammer to applause in the packed sales room.

"It's like pink champagne," he told Reuters before the sale.

The stone, purchased from American jeweller Harry Winston 60 years ago by the anonymous owner who consigned it for auction in the Swiss city, had a pre-sale estimate of $27-38 million.

Previously, the world's most expensive jewel sold at auction was the historic "Wittelsbach" blue diamond, a 17th century stone of 35.56 carats that fetched $24.3 million in December 2008 at rival Christie's.

That was also purchased by Graff of Graff Diamonds, who later had it repolished, making it smaller at 31.06 carats, and renaming it the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond.

"Laurence Graff is a great connoisseur of gem stones. He certainly now owns two of the greatest stones in the world," Bennett told reporters on Tuesday night.

"There were four active bidders for the diamond, which at that level is quite extraordinary," he added. "It tells you a lot about the health of the market."

The sale netted $105.05 million, a world record for a jewellery sale, exceeding the previous record of $68.5 million also set by Sotheby's in Geneva in 1993, its statement said.

In all, 397 of the 487 lots on offer found new owners, for a sell through rate of nearly 82 percent by lot. The top 10 lots, including diamond rings by Harry Winston and French jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, each sold for more than $1.3 million.