The Most Memorable Jewelry Auction Moments of 2023

EditorsDec 21, 2023

The Most Memorable Jewelry Auction Moments of 2023

From record-setting gems to celebrities and controversy, Associate Editor Lauren McLemore looks back on the year’s most intriguing sales.

Heidi Horten Van Cleef & Arpels and Boivin jewels
“The World of Heidi Horten” sale at Christie’s was one of many memorable auction moments in 2023. The sale, which continued despite controversy, featured more than 700 pieces from the late billionaire’s collection, including the jewels from Van Cleef & Arpels and Boivin, seen here.
As editor on the colored gemstones beat, I had the pleasure of getting to cover some stunning jewels that sold at auction this year, as well as a handful of other interesting sales.

Since April, I’ve written about all sorts of auction activity, from highly anticipated pieces that were pulled from the lineup to large jewels that seemed to vanish mid-sale.

It was difficult to narrow it down to a short list, but some sales did stand out more than others this year.

Here are my six most memorable jewelry auction moments of 2023.

The Bidding Wars I Wished I Had Witnessed
Auctions generally aren’t known as nail-biter events, save for a few remarkable offerings here and there. However, there’s an exciting energy that permeates the room when bidders get competitive.

At Sotheby’s “Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels” auction in Geneva in May, an 11.16-carat fancy vivid blue diamond was all the rage.

The “Bulgari Laguna Blu” was presented as the final lot of the jewelry auction’s second session and quickly became the subject of a four-minute bidding war between one buyer who was present and three on the phone.

Bulgari Laguna Blu
The 11-carat Bulgari Laguna Blu sold for more than $25 million at Sotheby’s in May.

In the end, the diamond sold for $25.2 million (a touch above its $25 million estimate) and found its first new owner in 50 years.

It is the most valuable gem set into a piece of Bulgari jewelry ever sold at auction, Sotheby’s said.

Another blue diamond prompted seven minutes of bidding before eventually selling at Christie’s Geneva jewelry sale in November.

Bleu Royal
The fancy vivid “Bleu Royal” sold for $44 million at Christie’s in November.

The 17.61-carat pear-shaped “Bleu Royal” diamond eventually went for $44 million, in the middle of its estimated range of $35 million to $50 million.

The auction house said the Bleu Royal is the largest IF fancy vivid blue diamond ever to come to auction and one of only three fancy vivid blues weighing more than 10 carats ever to appear at a Christie’s sale.

The Record-Breaking Double Whammy
Speaking of big, juicy gemstones, Sotheby’s sold two for more than $30 million each on the same day—a first for any auction house—at its June “Magnificent Jewels” auction.

Less than a year after it was mined, a Mozambiquan ruby dubbed the “Estrela de Fura 55.22” sold for $34.8 million (estimate $30 million). It set a world record for a ruby and any colored gemstone at auction and was bought by a private collector from the Middle East.

Estrela de Fura 55.22 ruby
The “Estrela de Fura,” a 55-carat pigeon’s blood ruby from Mozambique, sold for more than $30 million at Sotheby’s in July, making it the most expensive ruby ever sold at auction.

A 10.57-carat fancy purplish-pink diamond, “The Eternal Pink,” also sold for $34.8 million, setting a world auction record for a fancy purplish-pink diamond and a new price-per-carat record for the color grade.

The Eternal Pink diamond
“The Eternal Pink,” a fancy purplish-pink diamond weighing more than 10 carats, set a new record for the color grade, far surpassing the past marker of $19.9 million set by a 10.64-carat fancy vivid purplish- pink diamond at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019.

Total sales at the auction added up to $95.9 million (estimate $87.9 million– $99.1 million), setting yet another record as the highest ever total for any jewelry auction ever staged at Sotheby’s in New York.

The previous record of $65.1 million was set in April 2015.

The Other Notable Record-Setting Sale … With A Side of Controversy
This next sale I didn’t personally cover, but I’d be remiss to not include it in this memorable auction moments wrap-up.

When Christie’s announced in March it was offering the 700-piece collection of late Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten, the largest and most valuable private jewelry collection ever to come to auction, I was already locked in to Associate Editor Lenore Fedow’s coverage.

The auction house estimated “The World of Heidi Horten” would surpass the record set by the sale of renowned jewelry lover Elizabeth Taylor’s private collection in 2011 (total: $137.2 million).

Before any of the auctions began, The New York Times published details on how Heidi’s husband, Helmut Horten (the late German billionaire behind the now-closed Horten’s chain of department stores) built his empire by buying businesses from Jewish business owners forced to sell their companies for almost nothing by the Nazis.

In response to the controversy, Christie’s said it would donate a “significant” portion of the final sale proceeds to an organization that furthers Holocaust research and education, but Jewish organizations still objected to the sale to (almost) no avail.

The auction house continued with the May sale, with the collection bringing in a record-breaking $156 million in the first part, and an added total of nearly $200 million by the end of the second sale

The final segment of the auction, scheduled for November, was ultimately canceled.

The Celebs-Supporting-Celebs Moment
It’s not too often that we get to know who buys the pieces we fall in love with from afar, so when a buyer is revealed, it’s a bit of a treat.

Drake took the cake for me this year when he revealed himself as the buyer of Tupac Shakur’s self-designed crown ring, which he wore in his last public appearance in 1996.

Tupac crown ring
Tupac commissioned this gold, diamond, and ruby crown ring shortly after being released from jail, desiring a piece that represented both a coronation and rebirth for the rapper, who was looking to start over personally and professionally.

At Sotheby’s July auction of hip-hop memorabilia, the gold, ruby and diamond piece blew its $200,000 estimate out of the water, garnering more than $1 million from the rapper.

The ring was the only hip-hop artifact in the sale to surpass $1 million, according to Sotheby’s.

I also enjoyed the moment Kim Kardashian was revealed as the buyer of Princess Diana’s cross necklace, which appeared in Sotheby’s online “Royal & Noble” sale back in January. 

She paid nearly $200,000 for the piece (estimate $96,000—$144,000).

 Related stories will be right here … 

The Piece I Would’ve Taken Home
Speaking of celebrities … as a certified, die-hard Swiftie, I was completely smitten when this starfish brooch, designed by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, hit the auction block.

Salvador Dali Étoile De Mer
Salvador Dalí’s “Étoile De Mer” brooch incorporates cultured pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds and includes two butterfly pins set with emeralds, sapphires, and colored diamonds.

The “Étoile De Mer” sold for $982,000 at Christie’s June Magnificent Jewels auction in New York, and although it fell below its $1 million-1.5 million estimate, some wagered it was the most valuable piece of jewelry by the artist ever sold at auction.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with Taylor Swift, stick with me.

The brooch once belonged to the eccentric Rebekah Harkness, a composer, socialite, sculptor, dance patron, and philanthropist who founded Harkness Ballet.

Rebekah Harkness starfish brooch
Harkness was seen wearing the starfish in myriad ways, like provocatively clinging to her breast or draped over her shoulder, as seen in this photo.

In 1947, Harkness married Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness. The couple purchased a mansion in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, they named Holiday House, where they threw raucous parties featuring high-society guests, which continued even after William died in 1954.

Dalí frequented the gatherings and helped with sets for Rebekah’s ballet; the two were friends.

Swift found a muse in the rebellious heiress, introducing Harkness to younger generations in a song from her “Folklore” album, “The Last Great American Dynasty.”

She even alludes to the socialite’s friendship with Dalí, recounting in the song how Harkness, “Blew through the money on the boys and the ballet / And losin’ on card game bets with Dalí.”

Oh, and she also bought Holiday House.

The Lot That Revealed New Royal History
My final favorite auction moment of the year is one I didn’t expect to be so invested in.

The November Sotheby’s Geneva auction “Vienna 1900: An Imperial and Royal Collection” featured almost 250 priceless historical treasures from Europe’s greatest princely families.

The event received attention for being a white-glove sale and for being the largest collection of imperial and royal jewelry ever put up for auction, according to the auction house.

The sale featured jewels found in worn travel bags stashed in a German bank safe, undiscovered, and undisturbed, for more than half a century.

The bags contained some jewels deposited in 1948 and others deposited in 1968, linking two women with a shared destiny in the tumultuous world of 20th-century imperial Europe: Princess Eudoxie of Bulgaria and Archduchess Maria Immaculata of Austria-Tuscany. (I’ll spare you the riveting details of their vast family tree.)

Princess Eudoxie’s story begins during World War II in 1944, when the Red Army was preparing to enter Bulgaria. Realizing the monarchy was in its final hours, she sewed her family jewels into pieces of fabric and buried them in her garden.

When she later found herself under house arrest, a prisoner of the Soviets, the princess secretly dug up the jewels and was able to transfer them to her sister-in-law Giovanna of Savoy, wife of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria.

In 1946, the country’s communist leaders, wanting to do away with the monarchy for good, allowed the last members of the royal family to go.

The women fled to Germany, and the jewels eventually were deposited into the bank vault.

A young Archduchess Maria Immaculata of Austria-Tuscany left Vienna for Germany decades after marrying Duke Robert of Württemberg, and she took mementos of her imperial past with her.

Köchert tiara Archduchess Maria Immaculata
A 19th-century natural pearl and diamond tiara by Köchert that belonged to Archduchess Maria Immaculata of Austria-Tuscany, Duchess of Württemberg. She inherited the tiara from her mother, Princess Maria Immaculata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Archduchess of Austria-Tuscany.

After the death of her husband, she spent her final years compiling the history of her jewels before also leaving her collection in the family vault in 1968.

When her jewels were recovered, each was still preserved in its original box, and many had accompanying handwritten notes describing their provenance.

Philipp von Württemberg, who, through his company Philipp Württemberg Art Advisory GmbH, helped organize the auction, was left speechless at the initial opening of each box and was visibly moved when recounting that moment for the press.

Over two sessions, hundreds of bidders globally “fought over” every lot, said Sotheby’s, with many pieces garnering interest from more than five bidders. 

So, I suppose this sale also is deserving of an honorary spot in my “bidding wars” category.

On that note, here’s to more incredible stories and edge-of-my-seat auction moments in the new year. 

After all the excitement of this year, I can’t wait to see what the auction houses have in store for 2024.

The Latest

Indian actress Saiyami Kher celebration sapphires
SourcingFeb 27, 2024
Fura’s New Sapphire Jewelry Is Traceable to the Source

The gemstone mining company’s “Celebration Sapphires” collection has launched in India.

National Jeweler columnist Lilian Raji
ColumnistsFeb 27, 2024
The PR Adviser: Leveraging Those Early Victories

Lilian Raji offers advice to a “small brand with big dreams” that is unsure of what its next step should be.

Sotheby’s MoonSwatch Suitcase auction
AuctionsFeb 27, 2024
Sotheby’s MoonSwatch Suitcases Sell for Over $600K

The auction house sold all 11 “MoonSwatch Moonshine Gold” suitcases, donating the proceeds to eye care nonprofit Orbis International.

GIA id100
Brought to you by
Full Disclosure at Your Fingertips

Distinguishing natural diamonds from laboratory-grown stones – now more available than ever – has been difficult for jewelers. Until now.

Nikia Levesque
MajorsFeb 27, 2024
Nikia Levesque Joins WJA Board as Foundation VP

The association also announced five new board members.

Weekly QuizFeb 22, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this short test.
Take the Quiz
Matteo Farsura Italian Exhibition Group
Events & AwardsFeb 27, 2024
IEG Names New Exhibition Manager for Jewelry, Fashion Division

Matteo Farsura, former exhibition manager of Vicenzaoro, will oversee the Italian Exhibition Group’s various jewelry and fashion shows.

Lightbox lab grown diamond pendant in yellow gold
Lab-GrownFeb 26, 2024
Lightbox ‘Significantly’ Lowered Its Prices in Q4

The De Beers-owned lab-grown diamond company dropped the price on its standard offerings from $800/carat to $600/carat.

flashforge pic.png
Brought to you by
WaxJet: Revolution in Jewelry Manufacturing

The WaxJet 400, recognized as the world's fastest wax printer, is bringing in a new era of precision and efficiency to industry.

JA New York signs
Events & AwardsFeb 26, 2024
JA New York to Bring the Diamond District to Spring Show

The upcoming show will have an immersive “47th Street Experience” for attendees.

GIA Dubai laboratory
GradingFeb 26, 2024
GIA Opens Lab in Dubai

The new DMCC Laboratory at Uptown Tower will initially serve clients in Dubai free trade zones.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36 with affirmations
WatchesFeb 23, 2024
Rolex to Open New Watchmaking School in Dallas

The Rolex Watchmaking Training Center will welcome its first class this fall.

Guzema Freedom heart pendant for Ukraine
CollectionsFeb 23, 2024
Piece of the Week: Guzema’s ‘Freedom’ for Ukraine Pendant

Ukrainian jewelry designer Valeriya Guzema’s charitable “Freedom” collection is inspired by hope for the country’s future.

Elton John’s leopard print Rolex Daytona watch
AuctionsFeb 22, 2024
Elton John’s Leopard-Print Rolex Roars at Auction

Two Cartier watches also topped their estimates at Christie’s “The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road” evening sale.

Buccellati header
TrendsFeb 22, 2024
Buccellati to Open ‘Prince of Goldsmiths’ Exhibition

Set to be held in Venice, it’s a look through the maison’s history.

813-carat “Constellation” diamond in rough form
SourcingFeb 22, 2024
Lucara, HB Group Partnership Revived

It is another 10-year sales agreement in which all the larger rough recovered from the Karowe mine will go to HB Group for manufacturing.

Sebastian Clarke and Katherine van Dell of Heritage Auctions
AuctionsFeb 22, 2024
Heritage Auctions Adds 2 New Hires to West Palm Beach Office

Sebastian Clarke and Katherine van Dell, frequent appraisers on “Antiques Roadshow,” will join the new office.

National Jeweler columnist Sherry Smith
ColumnistsFeb 21, 2024
On Data: January Was a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Jewelers

Sherry Smith dishes on the month’s highs and lows and the two categories consumers were loving ahead of Valentine’s Day.

Stock image of diamonds
GradingFeb 21, 2024
GIA’s Same-Day Service Now Available Everywhere

The new service, introduced to stem fraud related to lab-grown diamonds, will be offered at no cost for the time being.

Jam + Rico Claire’s jewelry
CollectionsFeb 21, 2024
Jam + Rico Debuts Second Claire’s Collection

Founder Lisette Scott was inspired by the intricacy, colors, and symbolism of African art and architecture.

Rapaport logo
SourcingFeb 21, 2024
Rapaport to Hold Another Natural Pearl Auction

Viewings start this week in New York and bidding will close on March 8.

National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith
ColumnistsFeb 20, 2024
Squirrel Spotting: Life After Rolex

Peter Smith shares advice from independent jewelers who used losing this cornerstone brand as a catalyst for reinvention.

Neile Adams McQueen and Steve McQueen
AuctionsFeb 20, 2024
Jewels from Neile Adams McQueen Shine at Bonhams

All 13 lots belonging to the actress and first wife of Steve McQueen sold at the recent “California Jewels” sale.

Stuller bench jeweler
Events & AwardsFeb 20, 2024
Stuller to Host Bench Jeweler Workshop in March

Registration is also open for its “Battle of the Benches” challenge.

Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers
IndependentsFeb 16, 2024
Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers Dies at 99

Gorman was an industry trailblazer, serving as the first female treasurer of Jewelers of America.

Jade Ruzzo gold and diamond Tennessee Torque necklace
CollectionsFeb 16, 2024
Piece of the Week: Jade Ruzzo’s Tribute to Tennessee

The movement of the 18-karat gold and diamond “Tennessee Torque” necklace is subtle.

Jared Goff and Claudia Cividino
MajorsFeb 15, 2024
Detroit Lions’ QB Jared Goff Going to Jared

Goff, whose fans hold up “He Went to Jared” signs at games, has signed a partnership with the retailer.

De Beers Venetia diamond mine
SourcingFeb 15, 2024
De Beers’ Production Down 8% in 2023

The company recovered 31.9 million carats of diamonds in 2023, compared with 34.6 million in 2022.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy