Blue Diamond Returns Auction Crown to Christie’s in One Day

Christie’s International regained the record for the top jewelry auction one day after losing it to Sotheby’s, by selling the largest flawless vivid blue diamond in the world for $24 million at a sale in Geneva.

Swatch Group AG’s Harry Winston brand bought the stone in the final day of the city’s spring auction season. The sale of The Blue, with 13.22 carats, allowed London-based Christie’s to regain the jewelry auction crown with a sale total of $154 million, beating a record Sotheby’s held for a matter of hours.

“I had to buy it,” Swatch Chairwoman Nayla Hayek said in a statement. The Swiss watchmaker, which bought Harry Winston last year, is renaming the diamond The Winston Blue. “I am proud to own the most beautiful blue diamond in the world.”

The stone, and a 100-carat Graff diamond ring sold by Sotheby’s for $16 million, were the highlights of the Geneva spring auction season as the world’s two largest auction houses jockeyed for bragging rights. Christie’s had the record with a 2011 auction of a collection previously owned by Elizabeth Taylor, before Sotheby’s took the lead with a $141 million sale in Geneva late on May 13.

Christie’s sold 27 lots for more than $1 million in last night’s auction, including a Cartier belle epoque diamond brooch for almost $18 million and a pear-shaped D-color flawless 75.97 carat-diamond for about $15 million. The Blue had been estimated to sell for $21 million to $25 million, excluding the buyer’s premium.

Near Failure

Sotheby’s one-day ride in the record books almost didn’t happen. The 100-carat ring, with a daffodil-yellow diamond, was pulled from the sale after failing to reach a high enough price. A buyer confused about currency conversions asked for bidding to be restarted, and the item sold.

“Fancy vivid colored diamonds are some of the most rare gems on the planet,” said Gary Roskin, who writes an industry newsletter. “What other object holds so much value in such a small and beautiful package? You cannot put a Monet into your coat pocket. And you cannot wear 500,000 shares of AT&T.”

Harry Winston’s purchase follows its $26.7 million acquisition last May of a colorless diamond with almost 102 carats.

“Stones of this caliber and rarity perfectly fit Mr. Winston’s legacy as the King of Diamonds,” said Beatrice Howald, a spokeswoman for Swatch Group. Winston, an American who donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, died in 1978.

Status Move

It’s a “clear marketing message to get Harry Winston at the top end of the diamond players,” said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel.

In a separate sale yesterday, Sotheby’s sold a snuff box form the early 1800s with a concealed timepiece and a musical automaton with a scene of a woman playing a harp and a man tapping his foot, for 749,000 Swiss francs ($839,000). The New York-based auction house also sold a Panerai military diver’s watch from about 1955 for 425,000 francs, the highest auction price for the brand.

A 1927 Patek Philippe watch made for collector Henry Graves Jr. sold for 1.2 million Swiss francs at Christie’s earlier this week as the auction house sold 23.8 million francs of timepieces. A Rolex customized for the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al-Said, fetched 485,000 francs.

“The jewelry market continues to remain extremely vibrant and we look forward to a buoyant season” with auctions in Hong Kong, London, Paris and New York, Rahul Kadakia, international head of Christie’s jewelry department, said in a statement.

Sotheby’s initially topped the jewelry auction tables last year with a $199.5-million event in November, but renounced the claim after bidder Isaac Wolf couldn’t pay the $83 million he bid for a pink diamond.

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