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Sotheby’s – Christie’s Square off in a Battle of the Diamonds in Geneva

Sotheby’s – Christie’s Square off in a Battle of the Diamonds in Geneva

There was an epic battle of auction houses this week in Geneva and diamonds were the weapons of choice. Sotheby’s and Christie’s held auctions that garnered world-wide attention one day apart, on May 13th and May 14th respectively.

When most think of Sotheby’s they think of England, and for good reason. That is where the fourth longest continuously operating auction house was started. But today, Sotheby’s is actually based in New York City. It is more than just an auction house. Sotheby’s has two other divisions called “Dealer” and “Finance”. With some 90 locations in about 40 countries, the organization has a modest number of worldwide employees however. Less than 1,500 people are employed by Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s traces their history back to 1744. In the early days, many of Sotheby’s auctions were dominated by rare books and coins. Today, their auctions filled with valuable art and jewelry garner the most attention. The company is the world’s largest seller of valuable art, selling a whopping $5.4 billion in 2012.

There is some debate about when Christie’s was actually started. The company was founded by James Christie and early advertising puts the date at 1759, making it Sotheby’s junior by some 15 years. Christie’s is now owned by a holding company of Frenchman François-Henri Pinault. The company maintains its worldwide headquarters in London, but it also has a major presence in Rockefeller Center in New York City. The company has slightly more worldwide employees than their chief competitors with about 1,900 staff members. Christies has 85 locations in 43 countries. While neither does sell diamonds in Boca Raton, they do have real estate franchises here.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been competitors for centuries but in 2000 the two companies were tied in a commission-fixing collusion case. After the organizations were discovered working together, a number of Sotheby’s senior managers lost their jobs. There was jail time for Sotheby’s largest shareholder as well as the firm’s CEO. The companies combined to pay a whopping $512 million dollar fine for the affair. No one at Christie’s was charged.

Well, here we are, mid-May of 2014 and the rivals are still going head-to-head. This time Geneva, Switzerland was the site, with Sotheby’s firing the first shot.

At Sotheby’s May 13th auction, a stunning 100.09 carat yellow diamond called the “Graff Vivid Yellow” sold for $16.3 million, after a slightly dramatic pulling front eh auction floor. The diamond is named for famed London jeweler Laurence Graff, whoc cut the large stone. Diamonds that reach the 100 carat level are considered very rare, and yellow diamonds of this size and quality are even more impressive. Sotheby’s is estimating that in this market, when diamonds are a desired investment for the uber-rich, the diamond could bring upwards of $25 million. Sotheby’s David Bennett, who is chairman of the company’s jewelry departments for Europe and the Middle East, is quoted as saying “It is a charming stone.” Indeed.

The woman who eventually purchased the stone, reportedly mixed up her Francs and dollars, and requested the pulled stone be brought back to the floor for bidding, where the private buyer snapped it up for a record breaking price. All the drama slightly overshadowed the other fantastic sales from the auction.

Also up for grabs at the Sotheby auction was another whopping diamond. The  103.46 white round diamond, cut by the same jeweler as the yellow stone. It is said to be one of the largest brilliant-cut diamonds on the planet and sold for 4.3 million Francs.

A smaller but more noted stone for auction was the 31.34-carat called “The Victory Diamond” The white diamond owned by the daughter-in-law of railroad magnate Jay Gould, Florence Gould. Gould was considered one of the top jewelry collectors of the 20th century, which made things even more shocking when the Victory diamond failed to sell.

The star of rival Christie’s auction made history on May 14th.The flawless vivid blue diamond that Christie’s calls the largest of its kind in the world, simply known as The Blue, earned Christie’s back its record for most expensive auction. The pear shaped diamond is 13.22 carats, making it one of only four diamonds of 10 carats or more to be sold in the past ten years. None of the other three were over 12 carats and none were flawless like the one at auction this time. Most blue diamonds come from mines in South Africa, and many come from one particular place called the “Premier” mine. This stone, in particular, is expected to attract attention from wealthy Chinese investors who are drawn to these rare colored stones. The hammer price of The Blue was $24 million.

The new owner of the fabulous diamond is non other than Swatch chairwoman Nayla Hayek said in a statement. Last year, Swatch acquired Harry Winston, and this year, the famed diamond house has a new namesake. Hayek will re-name the diamond The Harry Winston Blue, saying “I am proud to own the most beautiful blue diamond in the world.”


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