New York: Forget that girl with the pearl earring. The mothball-size Baroda Pearls, a two-strand necklace that adorned generations of Indian princes, fetched a record $7.1 million (a little more than Rs28 crore) on 25 April at Christie’s in New York.
The price shattered the previous $3.13 million auction record for a pearl necklace, set in 2004 at Christie’s in Geneva.
The Baroda, 68 cream and pinkish gems with a Cartier diamond clasp, was estimated to sell for between $7million and $9 million.
An unidentified Asian buyer bid by phone.
“The Dow broke 13,000 today, the art market is very strong and the fine-gem market is as strong,” said Henri Barguirdjian, president of London-based jeweller Graff, at the auction.
The Baroda moment came at the end of Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale, which tallied $39.1 million.
The auction included knuckle-grazing diamond rings, Art Deco cigarette cases and sparkly earrings, as well as items owned by the American Hutton family, of the E.F. Hutton brokerage dynasty.
A 22.7 carat Kashmir sapphire pendant, estimated at up to $350,000, surprised the roomful of dealers and private buyers by fetching $3.06 million, becoming the most expensive sapphire ever purchased at auction.
The 1886 pendant with a deep-blue gem was sold on behalf of the Minnesota Historical Society.
“The Baroda Pearls fit in the category when you discuss the world’s great jewels,” said Amin Jaffer, author of Made for Maharajas and a senior curator at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, speaking by phone from London. “They have an iconic status.”
The necklace dates to the 19th century, when the jewel- crazed Maharaja of Baroda, Khande Rao, added it to the royal treasury—which included a 129-carat diamond.
Princes across India used gems and jewelry to buff their reputations, Jaffer said.
The pearls gained international fame when Khande Rao’s grandson Pratapsingh Rao was photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson decked out in the pearls, which were then a monster seven strands but later divided. He was one of the wealthiest men in the world and owned solid-gold cannons, sacred elephants, thoroughbred horses and lined his Rolls-Royces with leopard skins.
He also gave away the Baroda Pearls.
In 1949 the government ordered the return of the state jewels, and some, including the pearls, were reportedly returned.
Later, the Maharaja was forced to step down, accused of misusing state funds.
The Baroda necklace fell out of the limelight until this Magnificent Jewels sale; a Christie’s spokeswoman declined to reveal the seller’s identity.
Legal battling among descendents had threatened to interfere with the pearls’ auction.