Archduke Joseph diamond fetches $21.5 million at auction

GENEVA Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:33pm EST

An employee poses with the Archduke Joseph diamond during an auction preview at Christie's in Geneva in this file photo taken November 8, 2012. The 76 carat diamond is expected to fetch between 15 million and 20 million US dollars when it goes up for auction by Christie's in Geneva on November 13. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

An employee poses with the Archduke Joseph diamond during an auction preview at Christie's in Geneva in this file photo taken November 8, 2012. The 76 carat diamond is expected to fetch between 15 million and 20 million US dollars when it goes up for auction by Christie's in Geneva on November 13.

Credit: Reuters/Valentin Flauraud

GENEVA (Reuters) - A huge, internally flawless diamond from India's fabled Golconda mines was sold at auction in Geneva on Tuesday night for a record 20.355 million Swiss francs ($21.48 million), Christie's said.

The rare, colorless stone weighing 76.02 carats, and roughly the size of a large strawberry, once belonged to Archduke Joseph August of Austria (1872-1962), a prince of the Hungarian line of the Habsburgs.

Its pre-sale estimate was 15-to-25 million Swiss francs and it fetched more than double the price paid for it at auction almost two decades ago.

"It is a world record for a Golconda diamond and a world record price per carat for a colorless diamond," Francois Curiel, director of the international jewelry department at Christie's, told reporters.

"The market is not on the best form at the moment. The sale tonight was almost flabbergasting," Curiel said.

He added that the buyer wished to remain anonymous, but revealed that the underbidder was Fred Mouawad, an international dealer with offices in Dubai, the Middle East and Geneva.

The seller was American jeweller Black, Starr & Frost.

"My understanding is that this stone is going to a museum and it will probably be the centrepiece," said Black, Starr & Frost's chairman Alfredo Molina.

The diamond was the star lot at Christie's semi-annual jewelry sale in Geneva, which fetched 76.6 million francs, with 290 of 348 lots sold.

The bidding opened at 8 million Swiss francs but the price swiftly rose amid heated telephone bidding.

Historical diamonds originating in the Golconda mines, virtually exhausted by the 18th century, include the Koh-i-Noor, now in the British crown jewels, and the blue Hope Diamond, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., Christie's said.

"The Archduke Joseph Diamond is the finest and largest perfect Golconda diamond ever to appear at auction. It is comparable in its noble lineage and superb quality to the legendary Koh-i-Noor," Rahul Kadakia, head of Christie's jewelry for the Americas and Switzerland, said in a statement.

In 1933, records show the Archduke deposited the stone in the vault of the Hungarian General Credit Bank.

"Three years later it was sold to a European banker, and kept in France, locked away in a safe deposit box, where fortunately it remained undiscovered during World War Two," the auction house said.

Decades later it surfaced at auction in 1961 and again at Christie's in November 1993, netting 9.7 million Swiss francs, equivalent to $6.5 million at the time, the auction house said.

The stone was subsequently "slightly recut". Christie's is privately held by French billionaire Francois Pinault.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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