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Along the spectrum of all coloured diamonds, few fancy colours take pole position for their celebrity and rarity: reds, pinks, greens, and of course, blues. Few other colours can stand equal to the phenomenon of a fancy intense blue.
The Smithsonian Institute, where two of the world's most famous blue diamonds reside, estimate that only 1 in 200,000 diamonds discovered has any hint of blue. Their infrequent discovery owes as much to the scarcity of known remaining deposits as to their particularly unusual formation and structural composition. Almost all blue diamonds fall into the rarest Type II category: structurally the purest of all diamonds. Free from the more common nitrogen impurities within the crystal lattice found in Type I diamonds, Type IIa diamonds contain almost no impurities at all, while in Type IIb diamonds, trace quantities of the element boron exist. It is this existence of boron atoms within the carbon crystal structure that gives Type IIb diamonds unusual semiconducting properties, and most importantly, their rare blue colour.
Although some recent discoveries of Type Ia blues have been made in Australia at Argyle, home to the world famous pink and red stones, blue diamonds are almost exclusively the far rarer Type IIb, which accounts for less than 0.1 of all diamonds mined. Of all Type IIbs extracted, however, blues comprise only a fractional percentage once more.
Amongst this infinitesimal percentage of blue colours amongst diamonds is counted all stones with an overriding blue body colour, no matter where on the grading scale from faint through to vivid blue, and including any stones with a grey colour modifier. Grey is a common modifier in blue diamonds, and can detract from the value compared with a 'straight' fancy colour grade. Although still desirable, a fancy greyish blue is still far out-classed by a pure fancy blue. Furthermore, the rarity and value of a fancy coloured diamond rises exponentially depending on its position on the scale of colour saturation. Starting with faint, through to light, fancy light, fancy dark, and fancy deep to describe the depth of a stone's intensity, the extreme grades of fancy intense and finally fancy vivid reach the heights of a diamond's intensity of colour saturation. A blue diamond of 13.49 carats, not only with no mention of grey, but also of intense colour saturation, has a star pedigree.
BLUES IN THE GROUND
Blue diamonds are geologically so rare that their minute production has long been almost entirely relegated to one deposit in the world: that of the Premier, or Cullinan, mine in South Africa. Located 3 miles north east of Pretoria, the mine was discovered by Sir Thomas Cullinan, the chairman of the board of the Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Company. The mine was named Premier after the company in 1902, while the local village was named Cullinan in honour of Sir Thomas the following year. Premier operated as an open-pit mine until a spell of closure from 1932 to 1947, when it was reopened as a shaft mine. In November 2003, De Beers announced that, in celebration of the mine's centenary, it 'would usher in the new era with a new name'. After 100 years, Premier would become known as Cullinan Diamond Mine. More recently, it was announced in 2007 that Cullinan Diamond Mine had been acquired from De Beers by Petra Diamonds Limited.
Many of the world's most spectacular, and largest, diamonds have been recovered at Cullinan, the most famous being the 3,106 carat Cullinan Diamond. Discovered early in the mine's history, in 1905, the Cullinan Diamond still holds the record as the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found. The discovery of this particular diamond played an important role in the early reputation of Premier, as it produced the 530 carat Cullinan I, or Great Star of Africa, and the 317 Cullinan II, or Lesser Star of Africa, both of which were set in the British Crown Jewels. Cullinan I also held the record of the largest polished diamond in the world, until the Golden Jubilee Diamond, cut to 545 carats, was discovered in 1985: another famous Premier stone.
The mine is renowned, however, not only as a source of important sizeable diamonds, but also as the world's only significant locality for blue diamonds.
Although blue diamonds only account for 0.1 per cent of those originating from the Premier mine, a seemingly negligible figure, a rough estimate of global blue diamond production would be less than 0.0001 percent, and by some accounts, only one stone per 200,000 rough diamonds mined. This marks out the Premier Mine, without question, as the most important source for these rarities.
As early as 1908 the world's second largest dark blue diamond at the time, after the legendary Hope, was discovered at Premier. Cut to a beautiful heart-shape weighing 30.62 carats from 120 carats of rough, the Blue Heart today resides in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. More recently, the reputation of the mine for producing some of the world's most fabulous blue gems was affirmed with the incomparable cache of 11 blues, ranging from 5.16 carats to the 27.64 carat Heart of Eternity, unveiled by De Beers in 2000 as part of the De Beers Millenium Jewels Collection.
Yet production, specifically of blues, is said to be slowing. While pinks and yellows, for example, are steadily being recovered from well known deposits, the discovery of blue material, on the other hand, is said to be on the decrease. The obvious conclusion, and consideration for the longer term market, is that that these wonders of nature are becoming even more and more rare.
Historically, the earliest and most legendary diamond 'mines' were the alluvial gravels in the banks or beds of rivers in India, known as early as 800BC. The French explorer and gem dealer Jean Baptiste Tavernier visited a number of the Indian Mines between 1630 and 1668, recording the most important surviving geographical, geological and sociological account of early mining and dealing practices. The most famous workings were at the Kollur mine in the kingdom of Golconda, now part of the State of Hyderabad, celebrated for producing fine large whites of a special 'water' and the earliest known pinks and blues. The Golconda mines yielded such famous diamonds as the Koh-i-Nür, the Regent, and the Great Moghul, as well as the pink Darya-e-Nür, and, most importantly, the Tavernier Blue. Given the relatively late of discovery of alternative blue diamond sources, nearly all 'historic' blues are assumed to be of Indian origin. However, excepting sporadic exploitation, the mines were effectively commercially worked out by nineteenth century, leaving true Golconda diamonds with a legendary label and the production of blues scant and scarce until the new African deposits would take over.
Aside from the Premier mine, other mining localities have been known for blue production, although infinitesimal by comparison. A limited number of blues have recently surfaced from the Argyle Mine in Western Australia, known far better as the world's largest producer of pink, and even red, diamonds. When the occasional blue diamond surfaces at the Argyle Mine, it is, unusually, of the same classification as the pinks and browns: Type Ia, where the colour is caused by an overabundance of hydrogen atoms, as opposed to the boron-coloured Type IIb stones. Two other localities reportedly yielding Type I blues are some Venezuelan deposits and those in Guyana. Both Borneo and Botswana have also been known to yield blue material, while the Graff Imperial Blue, a 39.81 carat, internally flawless pear shaped fancy blue fashioned from a 101 carat rough, was discovered in Guinea.
The above references, however, are all very much the exception to the rule. During the twentieth, and twenty-first, centuries, the Premier mine has literally been the premier source for blue diamonds.
BLUES IN HISTORY
Important blue diamonds are in noble company, with some of the worlds most famous, even infamous, diamonds having a blue body colour, and possibly ranking highest among other coloured diamonds in importance and intrigue.
Arguably the most famous blue diamond of all time, and perhaps the most famous diamond of any colour, is the legendary Hope diamond. Although not the largest recorded blue in existence, falling third, according to Ian Balfour in Famous Diamonds, after an unnamed brilliant weighing 51.84 carats and the 45.85 carat Copenhagen Blue, it is the largest whose whereabouts is currently publicly known. The incredible 45.52 carat fancy dark greyish-blue gem is notorious not only for its marvellous size and colour, but also for the 'curse' said to hang over all who owned or wore it. This unprovable tale was certainly woven well by Pierre Cartier in 1911 as a sale strategy to entice the young Evalyn Walsh MacClean, American socialite and wife of the heir to the Washington Post fortune, into buying such an enigmatic jewel. Yet another fabled, and far more consequential, account behind the Hope was recently proven to be true in 2005: a team of researchers, gemmologists and cutters from the Smithsonian Institute were able to verify the long-standing rumour that the Hope was cut from the Blue Diamond of the Crown, otherwise known as the French Blue, which in turn was refashioned from the Tavernier Blue.
At some point during the mid 17th century, the renowned French explorer and merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier, during his final voyage to India, was offered a large steely blue gem. Weighing 112 3/16 Florentine carats (110.50 metric carats), it was said to have been stolen from the eye of an idol. The dark blue diamond was taken by Tavernier back to France where he sold it in 1668, together with a collection of his finest purchases, to King Louis XIV. Four years later the Sun King had the stone re-cut into a heart-shape weighing the equivalent of 69.03 metric carats, and as one of the Crown Jewels of France, it became known as the 'Blue Diamond of the Crown'. It passed through the hands of successive King and Queens until September 1792, when it was amongst the jewels stolen from the Garde Meuble during the French Revolution. The diamond appears to have re-surfaced exactly twenty years later, again re-cut, in the accounts of a London diamond dealer, and was at one point rumoured, although probably inaccurately, to have been acquired by King George IV. Finally in 1839 the diamond was referenced once more in the gem catalogue of Henry Philip Hope, of the Hope banking family, remaining in the family until 1901. The 'Hope', as it was now known, was then resold several times on the international market until it passed into the hands of Pierre Cartier in 1909. Thereafter it would become the emblem of Evalyn Walsh MacClean, closely tying her fate with its own, until her death and its sale in 1949 to Harry Winston. Winston donated the historic stone to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington in 1958, where it still resides today.
The Hope is housed together with another rare dark blue diamond, weighing 30.82 carats, and coincidentally also owned by Cartier in 1910: the 'Blue Heart' thereafter passed through the ownership of Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, and Marjorie Merriweather Post, before finally being donated to the museum.
Other famous blue diamonds have had their histories linked with the Tavernier Blue over the centuries, believed at some point or other also to have come from this parent stone. However the 2005 Smithsonian Institute research argued that such stones as the 7 carat blue diamond, belonging to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and given by her daughter-in-law the Empress Maria Feodorovna to the State Diamond Fund in 1860, could not have been fashioned from either the Tavernier or French Blue, as no sister stones could have existed at all.
The Brunswick Blue was another dark blue stone once believed to have some from the legendary Blue Diamond of the Crown. This eponymous gem belonged to the eccentric Duke of Brunswick, and was one of a very fine collection of gems put up for sale in Geneva after the Duke's death in 1873. The noted London jeweller and gemmologist Edwin Streeter had been the first to suggest an erroneous link to the French Crown Jewels, recording that he examined the stone personally in 1874. However, with no existing record of this stone today, the Brunswick is one blue to have fallen into the abyss of truly legendary blue diamonds.
Several modern blue diamonds of note are worthy of mention, as although only comparably young above the ground, their qualities are such as to lend themselves to a long and famous future history.
The Heart of Eternity, the fancy vivid blue weighing 27.64 carats, has already become world famous as the centrepiece of the incredible De Beers Millenium Jewels Collection. Equally, the Graff Imperial Blue, a pear-shaped fancy blue weighing 39.31 carats, has achieved notoriety not only as probably the world's largest flawless blue diamond, but also through being acquired, cut and named by the world's most famous name in the diamond business.
That a number of blue diamonds of note have enjoyed such colourful histories - including the remarkable gems in the following chapter to have been offered at Christie's - is not simply due to their point of discovery or the journeys they have made in their fashioned lives. But rather, the rarity of their blue body colour in the first instance has excited the attention of explorers and shahs, socialites and empresses, and collectors and kings. It has inspired men and monarchs to seek out such fabulous gems, and to give blues the greatest reverence within the greatest collections.
BLUES IN THE SALEROOM
A historic mark was made on the international auction market on 8 October 2007 when an internally flawless rectangular-cut fancy vivid blue weighing 6.04 carats was sold for $7,981,835: an incredible $1,321,500 per carat.
The colour blue had just set a world record auction price per carat for any gemstone, simultaneously breaking the million dollar barrier per carat. Exceeding a record previously unbroken for over twenty years and held by the 0.95 carat Hancock Red diamond, blue officially became recognized as the most valuable diamond colour per carat in the world.
Christie's has been privileged to have handled and sold some of the world's greatest blues: several which should also be listed as historic blues, and some which have appeared in more recent times, but which have, although young, already taken their place in the Blue Hall of Fame. The extraordinary 13.49 carat fancy intense blue offered here will undoubtedly be the newest addition to this elite club.
One of the earliest historic blue diamonds to have appeared for sale at Christie's was the Idol's Eye, a stone sharing a common myth with the Hope, having been rumoured to have once been stolen from the eye of an Indian idol. Its first authenticated appearance, however, was on 14 July 1865 in the salerooms of Christie's in London, where the catalogue described 'a splendid large diamond known as the Idol's Eye set round with 18 smaller brilliants and framework of small brilliants'. The 70.21 carat bluish Golconda stone passed into the ownership of the 34th Ottoman Sultan, Abd al-Hamid II, who would soon be deposed from his autocratic position in 1909. In an attempt to dispatch his jewels to safety, the Idol's Eye was stolen by the servant entrusted with it, soon reappearing at auction in June 1909, but this time in Paris. Bought by a Spanish nobleman, the Idol's Eye rested in a London bank until after the end of the Second World War. Harry Winston acquired the diamond in 1946, selling it the following year to Mrs May Bonfils Stanton, the daughter of the co-founder of the Washington Post and an avid jewellery collector. After her death in 1962, the Idol's Eye was sold at auction once more, in 1967, and by 1979 the diamond was in the ownership of Laurence Graff. The ensuing sale conducted by Mr Graff, together with two other large and named stones, is thought to be one of the most important diamond deals in history.
Also of Indian origin, and, like the Tavernier Blue once suggested to have been a part of the French Blue, the Wittelsbach is a historic diamond fortunate to have avoided the doom of latter-day obscurity. From the seventeenth century, this dark blue 35.50 carat gem mostly led a quiet, if imperial, life. Through the Spanish Royal Family, via King Philip IV and his daughter, then the Austrian Royal Family, via Emperor Leopold I and his daughter, the diamond finally made it way into the ruling House of Bavaria, becoming the family diamond to the Wittelsbachs. The diamond remained in the royal family for the following two centuries until a decision was made to alleviate the hardship of family descendents by auctioning certain of the Bavarian Crown Jewels by Christie's in London in November 1931. Following the auction, the diamond was neither seen nor heard of again, until an unnamed large blue diamond was placed on display at the World Exhibition in Brussels. A skilled cutter in the Belgian diamond industry, Joseph Komkommer, fortuitously identified the diamond as the lost Wittelsbach and so saved its story for posterity.
The largest blue diamond ever to have appeared at auction is the incredible 42.92 carat pear-shaped Tereschenko diamond. Ranking as the fourth largest fancy blue on record, it follows only an unnamed brilliant-cut weighing 51.84 carats, the 45.85 carat Copenhagen Blue, and the 45.52 carat Hope. The original owners of the diamond, the Tereschenko family, were wealthy pre-revolution Russian sugar magnates, who had the gem mounted in an incredible multi-coloured diamond necklace by Cartier in 1913 reputed to be one of the most extravagant and beautiful fancy-coloured diamond jewels of the twentieth century. The Tereschenko was smuggled out of Russia in 1916 on the eve of the revolution, passing into new private hands. Following seven decades of elusive silence, the diamond reappeared to great excitement in 1984 when Christie's announced the auction of the Tereschenko in Geneva in 1984. With a shout of 'Ten million Swiss francs' the hammer was brought down to Mr Robert Mouawad, setting a new world record price at the time for a blue diamond, and indeed for a diamond of any colour.
Several newer blues have recently won world recognition not only through their rare quality, but also with the Graff name stamp of approval. Leading the 6.70 carat Graff Blue Heart and the 39.31 carat Graff Imperial Blue, is the original 6.19 carat Graff Blue. Sold on 15th November 1990 by Christie's in Geneva as part of a fancy coloured diamond pendant supporting what would become known as the Graff Orange, this beautiful dark blue circular-cut diamond would be recorded and remembered ever after.
Most recently in the world of named blues sold at Christie's is the beautiful Begum Blue diamond. When the jewellery collection of Her Highness Princess Salimah Aga Khan came under the hammer in Geneva on 13 November 1995, it hit headlines as the most important, comprehensive and magnificent single owner jewellery collection to have appeared at auction since the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor were sold in 1987. The 13.78 carat fancy deep blue heart-shaped diamond known as the Begum Blue, mounted together with a D colour Internally Flawless heart-shaped diamond of 16.03 carats, was undoubtedly the star of the show.
However, of the important and historic blue diamonds mentioned above, many are a deep or dark blue colour, and some even with a touch of grey; only a few could be described today as an intense sky blue. In this fancy intense blue range, diamonds of even five or six carats are seldom seen in the saleroom, and those over ten carats are virtually unheard of. Notwithstanding the famed and named diamonds of auctions past, the diamond offered for sale here features within the top ten list of diamonds ever offered at auction of comparable size and of fancy blue saturation or higher. Furthermore, of all the blue diamonds weighing over 12 carats ever to have been sold at auction, not one was graded fancy intense blue at the time, placing this diamond in a class completely of it own.
Given the current market and the increasing rarity of blue diamonds, the appearance of such a gem at auction today - one likely to set a world record and take its place amongst other world class famous blue diamonds - is to be expected only once in a blue moon.