Amid a bumpy post-pandemic economic recovery and global downward pressure, in 2023 fancy coloured diamonds stood strong as the flavor of the year for jewel collectors and investors. More than traditional white diamonds, gemstones with vivid hues continued to demand top dollars and showed no signs of abating.
As the new year arrives, let's look back on some of the most important jewels sold at auction last year.
At Christie's, a 17.61-carat Fancy Vivid blue diamond, named The Bleu Royal, sold for over CHF 39.5 (US$43.8 million) in Geneva in November. Mounted on a ring, the pear-shaped stone not only achieved the highest price paid for a piece of jewelry at auction in 2023, but it is also the largest Internally Flawless Fancy Vivid blue diamond to ever go under the hammer, having remained part of an important private collection for the past five decades.
As for its arch-rival Sotheby's, the luxury spotlight fell on two record-setting stones: the 55.22-carat Estrela de Fura, the world's largest gem-quality ruby; and the Eternal Pink, a 10.57-carat Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink diamond. Both fetching US$34.8 million, the former set an auction record for a ruby and any coloured gemstone, while the latter realized a record high for a purplish pink diamond and also achieved a price-per-carat record price for the colour grade.
Bleu Royal exceptional coloured diamond and diamond ring
Weight: 17.61 carats
Colour: Fancy Vivid Blue
Clarity: Internally Flawless
Cut: Pear brilliant-cut diamond
GIA report no. 2215099190
Sold: CHF 39,505,000
Auction House: Christie's Geneva
Auction Date: 7 November 2023
In November, the 17.61-carat Bleu Royal diamond commanded the spotlight at Christie's Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva. Opening at CHF 19 million, it immediately attracted three interested phone bidders, who were represented respectively by Max Fawcett, Head of Jewelry Department in Geneva; Julien-Vincent Brunie, International Head, Jewelry Private Sales; and Isaac Choi, General Manager, South China.
The bidding war swiftly escalated, with the price skyrocketing to CHF 32 million within a minute. As bids continued to climb in increments of CHF 500,000, it became clear that Isaac Choi's client from Asia was determined to take the diamond home, countering almost immediately all the way until the hammer fell at CHF 34 million.
In the end, Choi's client on the phone with paddle number 9755 won the lot for a final price with fees of CHF 39.5 million (US$43.8 million), making it one of the most expensive diamonds ever sold at auction.
Isaac Choi won the lot for his client with paddle number 9755
Blue diamonds are among the rarest of all coloured diamonds. Of all natural diamonds, less than 0.02% come in blue.
A fabulous fluke of nature, a blue diamond is produced by the random presence of the atomic lattice-bound trace element boron within the stone’s carbon structure during its formation deep in the earth’s core.
Weighing a staggering 17.61 carats, the Bleu Royal is one of less than ten Fancy Vivid blue diamonds weighing more than 10 carats to ever appear at auction – and it is perfect according to nearly every critical criterion, having achieved high rankings under each of the standards by which the quality of a colored diamond is judged.
It has been graded Fancy Vivid Blue by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) – the highest possible colour grading, awarded to no more than 1% of blue diamonds submitted to the GIA. It also boasts exceptional clarity, having been declared Internally Flawless by the GIA, ranking second on the chart; in addition to which, it was classified as Type IIb, a rare category that represents less than 0.5 % of all diamonds.
Estrela de FURA: 55.22 (Auction record for a ruby and any colored gemstone)
Cushion-cut ruby weighing 55.22 carats set as a ring
Auction House: Sotheby's New York
Auction Date: 8 June 2023
Sotheby's presented the world's largest gem-quality ruby, the 55.22-carat Estrela de Fura, in June in New York; and it eventually fetched US$34.8 million – a new record not just for a ruby, but also for any coloured gemstone ever sold at auction. It was sold to a private collector from the Middle East.
Unearthed in FURA Gems' ruby mine in Montepeuz, Mozambique in July 2022, the original rough stone of the Estrela de Fura weighed an astonishing 101 carats.
Even in its untouched state, it had already stunned experts with its fluorescence, remarkable clarity, and vivid red hue – known as "pigeon's blood", the colour which is traditionally associated only with top-quality Burmese rubies.
In the gemstone world, Myanmar (formerly Burma) has long been considered the premier source of the finest rubies. Yet, with prized Burmese ruby mines virtually depleted, in recent decades jewelers have turned to Africa in their quest to fill the void – and Mozambique, a country in Southeastern Africa, is emerging as one of the world's most important ruby deposits.
The original rough stone of the Estrela de Fura weighed 101 carats
Named Estrela de FURA, of Star of FURA in Portuguese, the ruby pays tributes to Mozambique’s official language, and shines a spotlight on the country as a rich source of premium quality rubies.
Its outstanding quality, with remarkable depth of colour and size, is recognized by five reputable gemological laboratories, including American Gemological Laboratories (AGS), Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF, Gübelin, GRS, and Bellerophon – all of which classified it as natural red ruby with no indications of heating. Among them, GRS and Bellerophon even referred to its hue as pigeon’s blood red.
The previous record for red rubies and coloured gemstones was held by the Sunrise Ruby, a 25.59-carat Burmese "pigeon blood" that sold for US$30.3 million at Sotheby's Geneva in 2015. That ruby was acquired by the late Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten.
And this record-breaking sale of the Estrela de FURA has now established a new benchmark for Mozambique rubies, elevating them to the long-standing and esteemed status of their Burmese counterparts.
The Eternal Pink (Auction record for a purplish pink diamond and a new record price per carat for the colour grade)
The cushion mixed-cut Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink diamond weighing 10.57 carats set as a ring
Auction House: Sotheby's New York
Auction Date: 8 June 2023
Estrela de Fura was not the only jewel to smash an auction record at the house's Magnificent Jewels Sale. A 10.57-carat Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink diamond, named the Eternal Pink, also raked in another US$34.8 million, setting a new auction record for a purplish pink diamond, and establishing a new price-per-carat record for the colour grade at over US$3.29 million.
The previous record was set by The Sakura Diamond, a cushion-cut purple-pink diamond weighing 15.81 carats, which fetched US$29.3 million at Christie's Hong Kong in 2021. Comparing the Eternal Pink with the Sakura Diamond, their only difference lies in the weight – the new record holder is lighter than its previous counterpart by around five carats.
The Eternal Pink reaches the highest grades across various categories
Such a result is largely due to the rarity of pink diamonds in recent years. The Argyle mine in Australia, which produces the highest volume of pink diamonds worldwide, ceased production in 2020 due to resource depletion. Driven by rising demands and limited supply, prices for top-quality large pink diamonds have surged.
Apart from blue, pink is another ultra-rare colour to occur naturally in diamonds. Of all the diamonds submitted to the GIA, less than 3% are classified as coloured diamonds, and less than 5% of those are considered predominantly pink. In 2002, GIA conducted data analysis on over 1,400 pink diamonds, and only 4% of them could reach the grade of Fancy Vivid Pink, most of which are often small in size.
Not only is the Eternal Pink of the highest colour and clarity grades, but it is also a Type IIa diamond, which achieved the highest level in terms of chemical impurities, where only less than 2% of all gem diamonds fall into this classification.