19th Century Sapphire Crown Earns Loudest Applause at Christie's Geneva Sale

May 13, 2021

On a night when the highly touted, 100.94-carat, D-flawless "Spectacle" diamond was supposed to be the star of Christie's Geneva auction, it was a 19th century sapphire-and-diamond crown that earned the loudest applause.

The crown once worn by Queen Maria II of Portugal (1819-1853) sparked a bidding war that yielded a final price of 1.77 million francs ($1.95 million) — more than five times the pre-sale high estimate.

At 8:13 pm Geneva time, the bidding passed 1 million francs and inched up in 50,000-franc increments for the next four minutes. Throughout the tense battle, bids often snuck in seconds before the auctioneer was about to smash his hammer down to end the sale.

The winning bidder was not immediately identified.

"It’s so rare to have a royal crown come up for auction," said Christie’s jewelry specialist Lukas Biehler prior to the auction. "Usually they’ve been remounted by subsequent kings or queens, or they’re locked away in royal treasuries or owned by museums."

Maria II's sapphire crown, which features octagonal step-cut and oval-shaped sapphires accented by old-cut diamonds, was designed in the 1840s. The piece was then passed down to Maria II's daughter, Infanta Antónia of Portugal (1845-1913), who married Léopold, Prince of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen in 1861.

Léopold was the eldest son of Princess Josephine of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen, who happened to be the middle daughter of Stephanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden and the adoptive daughter of Napoléon Bonaparte.

A matched collection of nine sapphire pieces that were once owned by Princess Josephine and passed down through the Hohenzollern family lineage also appeared at Christie's Geneva auction. On the 200th anniversary of the French emperor's death, each of theNapoléon-linked items outperformed the auction house's pre-sale high estimate by and average of two times.

The highly anticipated final lot of the session was "The Spectacle," the largest diamond ever to have been cut in Russia. The emerald-cut diamond arrived in Geneva with a pre-sale estimate of 12 million to 18 million francs ($13.2 million to $19.8 million), but failed to gain any traction after the opening bid was set at 10 million francs. Within two minutes, the bidding stalled at 10.9 million francs. With the buyer's premium, the final price totaled 12.8 million francs ($14.1 million).

Credits: Images courtesy of Christie's. Live auction screen capture from christies.com.