Sotheby’s Geneva Sale of Magnificent Jewels on November 13, 2013, would no doubt be a major highlight in the international auction calendar for the year 2013, for a multitude of reasons, chief among which is the appearance of the most valuable diamond ever to be offered at an auction, the 59.60-carat, oval mixed-cut, internally flawless, fancy vivid pink diamond known as the “Pink Star” diamond aka the “Steinmetz Pink” diamond (Lot No. 372), with a pre-sale estimate of over $60 million. The “Pink Star” is the largest fancy vivid pink diamond in the world, and the third largest pink diamond in the world after the 186-carat, “Darya-i-Nur” and the 60-carat, “Nur-ul-Ain” diamonds, both believed to have been cut from the “Diamanta Grand Table” – the Great Table Diamond – seen by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, in Golconda in southeast India, in 1642 and described in Chapter XXII of his book “Travels in India.” The “Pink Star” diamond is described as one of the earth’s great natural treasures due to a combination of rarities such as the rare occurrence of pink diamonds in general, the extremely rare occurrence of pink diamonds of larger size and the still rarer occurrence of large pink diamonds combined with intense pink colors such as fancy vivid pink. The “Graff Pink” diamond, a 24.78-carat, fancy intense pink, modified emerald-cut, VVS2 clarity pink diamond set a world record for the most expensive single jewel ever sold at an auction, at another Sotheby’s Geneva auction on November 16, 2010, when it sold for US$ 46.2 million. Going by the strong international demand for exceptional diamonds, it appears that Sotheby’s own record set in November 2010 for the most expensive jewel ever sold at an auction, would be broken again on November 13, 2013, with the sale of the “Pink Star” diamond.
The other top lot of the sale would be Lot No. 373, The “Walska Briolette Diamond” Brooch, created by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1971. The “Walska Briolette Diamond” of South African origin, is a 96.62-carat, briolette-cut, VS2-clarity, fancy vivid yellow diamond, that once belonged to the jewelry collection of Madame Ganna Walska, the renowned Polish-born Soprano of the early 20th-century, an international socialite, who married six times, four of whom were wealthy men, whose fortunes totalled $125 million. Her last marriage in 1941, at the age of 54, to the spiritually inclined Theos Bernard, a scholar of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism also ended in divorce in 1946, after which she decided to remain single. She settled down in her 37-acre estate, Cuesta Linda in Santa Barbara, California, which she purchased in 1941, with the intention of using as a retreat for Tibetan Buddhist monks, but did not materialize due to wartime restrictions.
She renamed her estate “Lotusland” and in her retirement took a new role as a garden designer, transforming “Lotusland” into a Botanical Garden of rare plants. She designed and created over a dozen unique gardens, each with its unique collection of plant species, from all over the world, usually belonging to a single genera, family, order or class, such as the Aloe Garden, Cycad Garden etc. Her unshakable determination in completing the work she started was clearly demonstrated in 1971, when she auctioned off part of her jewelry collection, including the “Walska Briolette Diamond” , in order to finance one more shipment of rare plants, to complete her final creation the Cycad Garden. Madam Ganna Walska’s jewelry collection was auctioned on April 1, 1971, at a Park-Bernet Galleries Sale known as the “Important Jewelry Collection of Madame Ganna Walska. The “Walska Briolette Diamond” was purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels who mounted it in a brooch designed as a phoenix. At the time of Madame Ganna Walska’s death in 1984 at the age of 97 years, her estate “Lotusland” and her fortune were bequeathed to the non-profit “Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation” with the condition that the gardens be open to the public. Accordingly, the foundation that manages the estate today, has opened the gardens for guided public tours, conducted by personnel known as “docents” who have undergone extensive training in giving public tours.
The “Walska Briolette Diamond” brooch is designed as a phoenix, set with brilliant and single-cut diamonds of yellow tint. The feathers are set with white brilliant-cut diamonds. The tail feathers are detachable into a pair of ear clips and a brooch. The brooch is accented with pear-shaped emeralds on the wings, eye and comb/crest of the phoenix. A blue cabochon sapphire is mounted on the body of the phoenix. Suspended from the beak of the phoenix as a detachable pendant, with a bellcap arrangement, is the 96.62-carat, fancy vivid yellow “Walska Briolette Diamond.” A pre-sale estimate of over US$ 8 million has been placed on the “Walska Briolette Diamond” brooch, a target that would be easily achieved given the superior color, cut, clarity and size of the diamond and the historical provenance associated with it.