Guernsey’s To Auction Princess Diana’s ‘Swan Lake Suite’
The matching diamond and pearl necklace and earrings will be auctioned at The Pierre Hotel in New York on June 27.
On June 3, 1997, Princess Diana attended the opening of the British National Ballet’s “Swan Lake” at the Royal Albert Hall in London wearing a diamond and South Sea pearl necklace.
Photographs of her from that evening circulated the globe and twice were the full front cover of People Magazine, including its 1998 hardcover issue.
Made by Garrard, the firm that served as the British crown jeweler at the time, Diana was involved in designing the necklace. Following the ballet, she returned it so Garrard could craft a pair of matching earrings.
However, just as the completed suite was to be returned to her, the princess was tragically killed in Paris.
Known together as the “Swan Lake Suite,” the pieces will be auctioned at The Pierre Hotel in New York City on June 27, just weeks after the 26th anniversary of when Diana wore the necklace at Royal Albert Hall.
The necklace is comprised of 178 marquise- and round brilliant-cut diamonds and seven 12 mm South Sea pearls. It’s mounted in platinum and includes more than 50 carats of diamonds.
The coordinating earrings feature a round brilliant-cut and marquise-cut diamond cluster with a South Sea cultured pearl drop. They are also mounted in platinum, and are claw set with peg and clip fittings.
Former president of Garrard, David Thomas, told Guernsey’s current president, Arlan Ettinger, the princess was involved in the design of the jewelry and had a love for South Sea pearls.
A few days ago, Ettinger received an email from Evelyne Poumellec, a lead designer at Garrard in 1997.
In it, she speaks of having been thrilled to know she was working on a project for Diana, saying the whole workshop was “overjoyed.”
Poumellec said that normally, a bespoke piece of jewelry would have taken Garrard about six months to prepare. However, they worked “feverishly” to finish the pieces for the princess, going out of their way to make sure all the diamonds were perfectly matched for her appearance at the ballet.
The Swan Lake Suite was of particular importance to Diana as she emerged from the protective umbrella of the British Crown. Even after her separation from the royal family, she retained the title of Great Britain's Patron of Dance.
As princess, much of the jewelry she wore for special occasions was borrowed from the holdings of the royal family, but as an independent person, she had her own identity.
“When she struck out into the world on her own and became the forceful, dynamic woman she became, it was hers and it wasn’t borrowed from the crown or anyone else,” Ettinger said.
Wearing this diamond and pearl jewelry that she had a part in designing to such an important occasion meant a great deal to her. Many speculate Diana was photographed more that evening than on any other occasion besides her wedding day in 1981.
Her independence, however, led to questions after her death, as the suite was left without an owner and was not subject to any royal protocol.
Based on information Ettinger received from Garrard, he believes Diana’s then-boyfriend Dodi Fayed, the heir of Harrods, intended to give the jewelry to her. However, at the time of their August death, the jewels still had not been paid for.
“Garrard confronted the fact that there was a price for these jewels,” Ettinger said.
Princess Diana's family authorized the sale of the Swan Lake Suite to a private buyer, directing a portion of the proceeds to UNICEF in honor of the Princess's efforts in landmine abolition.
According to reports, Garrard contacted a British lord, who purchased the jewels for his wife. She reportedly never wore them when she found out they belonged to Diana because she was too uncomfortable with their connection to the late princess who died so tragically.
Garrard’s president at the time, Thomas, then contacted Guernsey’s auction house.
On Dec. 18, 1999, the suite was put up for sale through the auction house and sold to Texan businessman James McIngvale for $1 million. His daughter was married wearing the jewelry.
However, in the 2008 financial crisis, McIngvale decided to sell and Ettinger came to help manage the sale of the suite a second time.
The jewels were purchased via private sale by current owner the Ginzburgs, a Ukrainian family who has been deeply affected by the war in their homeland.
Ettinger said the family is a loyal client and over the years, they’ve become friends.
“I know their hope is that money from the sale can be used in the rebuilding [of Ukraine],” he said.
With the coronation of Charles as king and one of her sons destined to be England's future monarch, it is highly unlikely any other pieces from the late princess' jewelry collection will ever be sold, according to Guernsey’s, making the purchase of the Swan Lake Suite a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
While the current estimate for the jewelry is around $5 million, Ettinger is reminded that over the years, many items have been made valuable by their association with great people and great events that go beyond the intrinsic value of the jewels.
“The sky is the limit,” Ettinger said of the expected sale price.
Although the auction is scheduled for June 27, interested buyers are welcome to request private viewings now. Pre-auction offers are being accepted. The suite may be transported back to Garrard’s London showroom prior to auction to be on display for a few days.
For more information visit Guernsey’s website.
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