Out of the Blue...
The Spring sales are now well under way, and there are some heavy-hitting gemstones on offer at the major auction houses.
Among these, we have a bevy of beautiful blue diamonds. Each one has a tale to tell – associations with Bond Girls, thieves, actresses and racehorses. Diamonds certainly do move in a rarified and exciting world.
The very existence of these extraordinary stones is something to get excited about in the first place. In a world that currently produces approximately 98% of its diamonds in colourless to yellow tints – only 0.0001% of natural diamonds have the rare colour of blue. Out of all the blue hues, ‘Fancy Vivid Blue’ is considered the purest and most saturated colour grade – a clear, rich blue devoid of any overtones that is unique in the world of gems.
The blue that one sees in a natural blue diamond has a quiet subtlety in comparison with other blue gemstones. These diamonds have a sense of depth to them, comparable to looking into one of the world’s deepest oceans.
With this level of beauty and rarity, it should come as quite a shock to see three of these stones in quick succession – each one weighing around 10 carats and over with important historical provenance. However, with this number of similarly hued stones appearing all at once it is easy to forget how very rare and unusual they actually are. Let’s take a closer look at each one in turn.
De Beers Millennium Jewel 4
The De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 is a 10.10ct oval brilliant cut, internally flawless, Fancy Vivid Blue diamond which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for US$32 million (approx. $3.17 million per carat) against estimates of $30 - $35 million on Tuesday the 5th of April.
It was the largest oval-shaped Fancy Vivid Blue diamond to have ever come to auction. Whilst the name might not inspire the imagination, it is more understandable when one knows from whence it is derived. The history of this stone lies within the Limited Edition De Beers Millennium Jewel Collection; a rare and unparalleled 12-piece diamond collection put together by De Beers and the Steinmetz Group - industry leaders in the diamond community.
The highlight of the collection was the 203.04ct ‘Millennium Star’ diamond, which is the world’s second largest D colour, flawless diamond, and which currently sits in 8th position for the largest cut diamond ever. Surrounding this centrepiece were eleven fancy blue diamonds of rare and noteworthy size and quality. The blue diamonds had a combined weight totalling 118cts, and ranged from a 5.16ct pear-cut to a 27.64ct heart-shape known as the Heart of Eternity.
All of the blues hailed from the Cullinan Mine in South Africa – the mine responsible for 25% of all natural blue diamonds and also some of our most remarkable gemstones, including a number of the Crown Jewels. With less than one notable blue diamond emerging from the earth each year, this group of diamonds represents the work of decades.
This exquisite collection was unveiled at CSO (Central Selling Organisation - the marketing arm of De Beers) in Charterhouse Street in London in October 1999, with Bond Girl Sophie Marceau lending a touch of glamour to the proceedings. This collection was then put on display in London’s Millennium Dome on December 31st 1999 where it was viewed by 6.5 million visitors during the year 2000.
The DeBeers Millennium Jewel Collection is said to be the rarest and most expensive diamond collection that was ever in existence, being valued at approximately £350 million in 2000. It hit the headlines again after an unsuccessful robbery of the collection on November 7th 2000, when a gang of six London locals attempted to ram-raid the exhibition and take off with the loot in a speedboat down the River Thames. Luckily, the plot was thwarted by the London Metropolitan Police Flying Squad after a tip-off from a member of the public and the gems remained in safe hands. Such is the trouble with displaying your diamonds on a Bond Girl…
After the exhibition, all of the diamonds were subsequently sold to private collectors, with the exception of the Millennium Diamond, which remains in the ownership of De Beers to this day. The only blue diamond from this collection to have returned to the auction market since 2000 is the De Beers Millennium Jewel 11, which was the smallest diamond within the collection at 5.16ct. This Fancy Vivid Blue diamond sold in April 2010 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $6.4 million USD ($1.19 million per carat) – about $2 million per carat short of what its sister stone accomplished in early April.
What a difference six years and five carats can make.
The Shirley Temple Blue
Stealing the spotlight of the Magnificent Jewels auction on the 19th of April in Sotheby’s, New York, will be the splendid Shirley Temple Blue. This diamond was owned and adored by the late Shirley Temple from 1940 until her death in 2014 and was one of the starlet’s favourite gems. Shirley Temple received this diamond as a gift on her 12th birthday around the same time as the premier for her hit screen-film The Blue Bird.
Shirley Temple was a lasting American idol – one of the first child stars of the screen, she appeared in a number of films produced by Fox Films from the tender age of 6 in 1934. This was the time of the Great Depression in America, and Shirley’s innocence, charm and cheer touched and warmed the hearts of the beleaguered nation.
In 1935, Shirley Temple posed for publicity photographs with the Jonker diamond – then the second-largest diamond in the world weighing 726 carats in its uncut state. This stone became an emblem for Harry Winston, who further surprised the international diamond manufacturing community when he selected an American for the job of cutting the stone. With associations like this, it is unsurprising that Temple is associated with the rise of America out from the bleak days and into the global force that it is today.
Shirley went on to become active in politics, being the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States as well as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia amongst other roles. Sadly affected by breast cancer in 1972, Shirley Temple Black underwent a mastectomy, holding a news conference from her hospital bed just days later to remind women that only they had the power to make their own medical decisions. Although she never returned to the screen, she will always be remembered and loved as America’s Little Darling, and a force for hope and good cheer.
The Shirley Temple Blue is a 9.54ct Fancy Deep Blue diamond; a very rare colour which has an enchanting inky darkness to it. The stone is fashioned as a cushion-brilliant cut with a clarity grade of VVS2 from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), however it is speculated to be internally flawless.
It would seem that fancy coloured diamonds were not as coveted in the 1940s as they are today… this beautiful stone was originally purchased by George Temple for US$7,210. This price is equivalent to US$121,800 in today’s currency – a stark contrast to the current estimate of US$25 to $35 million.
The Oppenheimer Blue
Third time’s a charm with the last, but by absolutely no means the least, of the three blues up for auction.
At 14.62cts The Oppenheimer Blueis the largest Fancy Vivid Blue diamond to have ever come to auction. This stone has been described as one of the rarest diamonds in the world and has been deemed the ‘gem of gems’ by the Chairman of Christies, François Curiel, whose auction house will be offering the diamond in Geneva on 18th May 2016.
This big blue originally belonged to the late Sir Philip Oppenheimer, Chairman of the De Beers Diamond Trading Company in London. The diamond was part of his unrivalled gem collection and Sir Philip has been immortalised by having the diamond being named in his honour.
The Oppenheimer family have long been associated with diamonds, ever since Ernest Oppenheimer took a controlling interest in De Beers in 1927. Sir Philip joined the company in 1934. He served on the board of De Beers from 1956, before taking on the Chairmanship of the Diamond Trading Company in 1975. In 2012 Nicky Oppenheimer sold his 40% stake in the company to Anglo American (a company founded by Ernest Oppenheimer).
Sir Philip’s personal involvement ran from 1934 until his death on 8th October 1995, but his real love was in the world of racehorses, as a breeder and owner. Under his influence (one presumes), De Beers has sponsored the sport since 1972.
The Oppenheimer Blue, a beautiful VVS1 emerald-cut diamond, which is noted for its striking colour and superb cut, has come to the field with estimates of $38 - US$45 million, and is considered the front-runner to beat the current price per carat record for any diamond at auction. This record is currently held by the 12.03ct Blue Moon of Josephine, which made $48.46 million (a staggering $4 million per carat) when it was offered by Sotheby’s Geneva, in November 2015.
A Blue Overview
Large fancy coloured diamonds have been tearing up the record books for expensive gems over the last decade. Whilst the rest of the jewellery industry seems to be entering what could be termed a lull, fancy coloured diamonds are coming in large and in charge – smashing the market with mind-blowing sums being exchanged for the privilege of owning a particularly special stone.
To give a sense of perspective; the Wittlesbach-Graff diamond broke the record for the most expensive diamond ever sold back in 2008 at Christies in London. At 35.56ct, Fancy Deep Blue, this diamond sold for £16 million, equivalent to approximately US$32 million in today’s currency – which translates to the bargain price of US$0.9 million per carat!
It would appear that the true rarity of these colours is only recently being understood and appreciated, which might go some way to explain the exponential rise of demand for these colourful little beauties. The price of these precious gems has risen only as a result of this increase in demand.
These costly blue tones are caused by boron impurities in the diamond’s otherwise pure carbon structure. Considering that the vast majority of diamonds contain impurities of nitrogen, causing yellow, the blue diamonds coloured by boron are exceptionally rare and are known as 'Type IIb' diamonds.
Besides their unique colour, Type IIb diamonds also have the unusual feature of being an electrical conductor, which is a rare property to have for a gemstone. All other diamonds are electrical resistors.
There is one other cause of blue in diamonds and this is due to impurities of hydrogen. Unlike the boron blues, these diamonds do not conduct electricity and they are often of a paler, greyish hue.
Like many other diamond lovers, we will be watching in keen anticipation to see what prices these marvellous gems make at auction. Could we have a record-breaker on our hand in next month? It remains to be seen - however, blue diamonds do seem to be attracting the highest prices per carat out of all the hues.
The only stone that could potentially break the rise of the blue is the almost mythical red diamond. This is the most rare of all diamond colours, and it has been a very long time indeed since one of these has come to market. Watch this space; when it inevitably does – given the current market conditions – it will be an outstanding sale; certainly one for the record books.
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