The largest fancy vivid blue diamond ever offered at auction is set to go on sale on May 18 at Christie’s in Geneva. The 14.62-carat stone, the "Oppenheimer Blue," is named after its previous owner, Sir Philip Oppenheimer, whose family controlled De Beers for 80 years before selling its 40 percent stake to Anglo American Plc for $5.1 billion in 2012. The diamond, whose “fancy vivid” designation rates it the highest and clearest saturation color blue possible, is estimated to sell for $38 million to $45 million.
The auction comes as the worldwide market for jewelry has sagged. Sales, according to Euromonitor International Ltd., dipped more than 4 percent in 2015, from $38.5 billion to $36.9 billion. The top of the market, however, has demonstrated consistent, record-setting resilience.
The last decade has seen a string of blockbuster prices for colored diamonds at auction. (Though there's a long history of colored diamonds being highly coveted, the Hope Diamond being the most prominent example.)
In 2008, the London jeweler Graff paid a record-breaking $24.3 million for a fancy deep grayish-blue diamond at Christie’s London; two years later, Graff broke another record, paying $45.6 million for a 24.78-carat pink diamond at Sotheby’s Geneva. Last year, the Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau broke that record by paying $48.4 million for a 12.03-carat, fancy blue diamond at Sotheby’s Geneva. (The night before, he paid $28.5 million for a 16.08-carat pink diamond at Christie’s; both jewels, totaling $77 million, were reportedly purchased for his then 7-year-old daughter.)
The sale of the Oppenheimer Blue will come on the heels of yet another potentially record-breaking sale, when a 9.54-carat blue diamond, once owned by the child star Shirley Temple, goes on sale at Sotheby’s in New York in April for $35 million. The Oppenheimer diamond, however, has the potential to break all existing records.
There’s the diamond’s size, which is more than a carat larger than the previous record; its rarity, given that less than .0001 percent of all diamonds mined are blue, according to Christie’s; and finally its provenance—Oppenheimer founded the London-based Central Selling Organisation, the De Beers-backed diamond cartel that maintained global prices for more than half a century.
“Achieving the strongest colors in traditional shapes, such as the 15-carat Oppenheimer Vivid Blue can only be achieved with a highly saturated intrinsic color of the rough diamond," said Tom Moses, the executive vice president of the Gemological Institute of America, in a statement. "This blue diamond’s color and clarity, combined with its traditional cutting style and provenance, is truly exceptional."