Amazing Lots Under the Hammer

By Neil Dolby
Jan 22, 2024

The latest auctions produced a slew of multi-million-dollar bids for some amazing items including a magnificent fancy vivid blue diamond, a fearsome Ferrari, a sensuous Sanyu and some valuable whisky.

Royal Blue

Flawless diamond sets year record

A recent jewellery auction in Geneva produced a slew of huge prices, and topping the lot was a magnificent internally flawless fancy vivid blue diamond set in a ring. Sold for a gargantuan US$44 million (about HK$343.4 million), it represented the highest price achieved by a jewel at auction in 2023. The superb stone, known as ‘The Bleu Royal’, was the highlight of Christie’s autumn Luxury Week, which amassed sales totalling US$140 million.

An intense bidding war took place to secure the gem, which eventually went to a private collection for the first time in 40 years. The whopping 17.61-carat fancy vivid blue pear-shaped brilliant- cut diamond is set in platinum and 18-carat rose gold and flanked by two pear-shaped brilliant-cut white diamonds of 3.12 and 3.07 carats, with all three stones internally flawless.

The Bleu Royal is the largest internally flawless fancy vivid blue diamond ever put up for auction. Christie’s jewellery expert Max Fawcett shared that it excited collectors from all over the world because of its long list of attributes, particularly the deep, rich blue colour that endows it with a unique quality.

Whisky Allure

60 Year Old Scotch stirs collector

Considered the world’s most valuable whisky, a bottle of The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 created a buzz in the auction room at Sotheby’s in London. Bottled in 1986, the 60 Year Old elixir numbered just 40 bottles, and every time one comes up for auction whisky connoisseurs worldwide wish to raise their hands and their glasses. This most recent prize – one of 12 bearing a label designed by the Italian painter – fetched £2.18 million (about HK$21.6 million), almost three times the pre-sale low estimate of £750,000.

The appeal among collectors was enhanced by the fact that Sotheby’s worked directly with The Macallan to recondition and authenticate the bottle – the first time this vintage has undergone reconditioning prior to being auctioned. This process involved replacing both the capsule and the cork, applying new glue to the corners of the labels and taking a 1ml sample to test against another 1926 bottle at the Glasgow office of Edrington, owner of the brand.

Sotheby’s spirits specialist Jonny Fowle believes this was the most desiraxble bottle of whisky ever to come to market. He says: “The Macallan 1926 is the one whisky that every auctioneer wants to sell and every collector wants to own.”

Nude Nature

Sensual Sanyu arouses intense bidding

A seminal Chinese modern painting led Christie’s evening sale of 20th and 21st-century art, with a packed Hong Kong saleroom witnessing the 1929 masterpiece change hands for an astonishing HK$187 million (about US$24 million). Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry) by Chinese-French artist Sanyu generated an electric atmosphere and such was the fierce competition that the auction attracted international participation from 24 countries. It was a bidder in the room, however, who landed this historically important work.

Born in Sichuan to a family who made their fortune in the silk business, Sanyu moved to Paris as a student in 1921 and is often hailed as the Chinese Matisse. Nude on Tapestry was his first major nude painting and it depicts Kiki de Montparnasse, a popular muse for the era’s avant-garde artists, in a style that reflects his mastery of calligraphy.

The valuable oil on canvas was entrusted to Christie’s from the prestigious Dreyfus Collection. A spokesperson for the auction house indicated that the outstanding result shows the resilience of the market and the enduring demand for Chinese modern art.

Red Racer

Fearsome Ferrari roars into history

A coveted Ferrari 250 GTO from 1962 was sold in New York by RM Sotheby’s for US$51.7 million, making it the most expensive of the marque ever to go under the hammer. It also whizzed into the record books by achieving the second-highest price for a car at auction – top honour here goes to a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé.

The whopping figure paid for this Ferrari is due in no small way to the 38 years of fastidious care lavished upon it by its previous owners, and the fact that this beautiful motor has a rich and distinctive history. It was the only GTO Tipo 1962 to race under the flag of the company’s own Scuderia Ferrari team. At the 1962 Nürburgring 1,000 km, it chalked up a class win and a second overall finish, before being driven by Mike Parkes and Lorenzo Bandini at the 24 Hour Le Mans. Three years later, it was the runner-up in the Sicilian Hillclimb Championship.

One of its former owners was the chairman of the Ferrari Club of America, and the sale came with a detailed documented history of the car, including copies of factory build sheets, owner’s correspondence, period of racing coverage and magazine feature articles.