A brief history of blockbuster Burmese rubies

A brief history of blockbuster Burmese rubies

Rubies command higher prices per carat than any other gemstone apart from coloured diamonds — and over the years ‘pigeon blood’ stones from Burma have sparked serious excitement in Christie’s international salerooms

The Elizabeth Taylor ruby and diamond parure

Sold for $5,403,500 in 2011

A ruby and diamond necklace by Cartier. Sold for $3,778,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A ruby and diamond necklace by Cartier. Sold for $3,778,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor auction in December 2011 was an historic moment for Christie’s, not to mention the wider auction world. Towards the end of the evening session in which many of the actress’s most iconic jewels were sold, a suite of ruby and diamond jewellery by Cartier was offered in three consecutive lots.

A pair of ruby and diamond ear pendants by Cartier. Sold for $782,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A pair of ruby and diamond ear pendants by Cartier. Sold for $782,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A pair of ruby and diamond ear pendants was followed by a ruby and diamond bracelet before the pièce de résistance, a ruby and diamond necklace — all by Cartier, all gifts to the screen legend from her then husband, Mike Todd, and all featuring diamonds with rubies mined in Burma that showed no evidence of clarity enhancement.

A ruby and diamond bracelet by Cartier. Sold for $842,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A ruby and diamond bracelet by Cartier. Sold for $842,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

Each lot produced several minutes of intense bidding before the earrings, bracelet and necklace sold for a combined total of $5.4 million. The necklace was purchased by Cartier, and became part of its extraordinary heritage collection.

The Jubilee Ruby

Sold for $14,165,000 in 2016

A sensational ruby ring by Verdura. Sold for $14,165,000 on 20 April 2016 at Christie’s in New York

A sensational ruby ring by Verdura. Sold for $14,165,000 on 20 April 2016 at Christie’s in New York

One of the main reasons that Burmese rubies are so valuable is because of their very specific, extremely saturated colour, caused by a high chromium content in the ground from which they are extracted. Another factor is their natural fluorescence, which has the effect of making the stone ‘come alive’ and appear internally illuminated. The Jubilee Ruby, weighing 15.99 carats, is the most expensive coloured gemstone ever sold at auction in the United States. Set in a distinctive gold and diamond mounting by Verdura, it sold for $14.2 million, which equates to $885,000 per carat.

The Camellia Brooch by JAR

Sold for CHF 4,003,000 in 2012

A ruby flower brooch by JAR. Sold for CHF 4,003,000 on 14 May 2012 at Christie’s in Geneva

A ruby flower brooch by JAR. Sold for CHF 4,003,000 on 14 May 2012 at Christie’s in Geneva

Joel Arthur Rosenthal, or JAR, lives an almost secluded existence in the creative universe of his atelier, producing only 70 to 80 pieces each year for an exclusive and wealthy clientele. The Camellia Brooch is the perfect embodiment of JAR’s appreciation of nature, replicating the beauty and texture of the flowering plant through the rarest of rubies in several cuts and sizes. Offered during the Jewels for Hope charitable auction of Mrs Lily Safra’s jewels organised by Christie’s in May 2012, it was purchased by a private client for just under $4.5 million — four times its pre-sale estimate.

The Crimson Flame Ruby

Sold for HK$141,800,000 in 2015 

An extraordinary ruby and diamond ring. Sold for HK$141,800,000 on 1 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

An extraordinary ruby and diamond ring. Sold for HK$141,800,000 on 1 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

The existence of rubies in Burma was brought to the attention of Europeans by explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century. Eight hundred years later, Burmese rubies have become so rare that they always create a stir in auction rooms. None more so than an unheated stone weighing more than 15 carats, with near perfect crystallisation and a ‘pigeon blood’ red colour. In December 2015, Christie’s Hong Kong offered such a gem, an exceptional Burmese ruby and diamond ring of 15.04 carats known as ‘The Crimson Flame’, which fetched just under $18.5 million.

A ruby and diamond necklace by Etcetera

Sold for HK$100,360,000 in 2015

A magnificent ruby and diamond necklace by Etcetera. Sold for HK$100,360,000 on 2 June 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

A magnificent ruby and diamond necklace by Etcetera. Sold for HK$100,360,000 on 2 June 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Edmond Chin is the creative mind behind the Etcetera brand, which he founded in 2000. Famed for their unique designs and technical innovation, Etcetera’s jewels are extraordinary creations. In June 2015, however, Christie’s in Hong Kong presented a piece that was special even by Chin’s lofty standards: a necklace featuring a collection of 48 oval and cushion-shaped rubies ranging from 1.10 to 7.02 carats, all originating from Burma, all exhibiting the ‘pigeon blood’ red colour and showing no evidence of treatment. The necklace sold for $13 million, and remains to this day the most expensive ruby-set jewel ever sold at auction.

The Ratnaraj Ruby

Sold for HK$78,940,000 in November 2016

A superb ruby and diamond ring by Faidee. Sold for HK$78,940,000 on 29 November 2016 at Christie’s in Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall

A superb ruby and diamond ring by Faidee. Sold for HK$78,940,000 on 29 November 2016 at Christie’s in Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall

This superb 10.05-carat Burmese ‘pigeon blood’ ruby ring was created by Faidee, a brand synonymous with the rarest and most sought-after gemstones. Faidee was founded by Roop Chand Lunia, nicknamed the ‘King of Burmese Rubies’. Named ‘Ratnaraj’, which means ‘king of precious stones’ in Sanskrit, this ruby, which hails from the famous Mogok Valley in Burma, was mounted on a platinum and gold ring and surrounded by oval-shaped colourless diamonds. It went on to realise more than $1 million per carat when it sold for $10.2 million at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

The Queen of Burma

Sold for CHF 5,877,000 in 2014

An exceptional ruby and diamond ring by Cartier. Sold for CHF 5,877,000 on 11 November 2014 at Christie’s in Geneva

An exceptional ruby and diamond ring by Cartier. Sold for CHF 5,877,000 on 11 November 2014 at Christie’s in Geneva

In November 1937, His Highness the Maharajah of Cutch III (1866-1942) purchased an impressive ruby ring at Cartier in London. Jacques Cartier had developed a deep interest in India, travelling frequently to the subcontinent, visiting many of its regions, and establishing friendships with several ruling Maharajahs. The ‘Queen of Burma’, as it is now known, represented the relationship that existed between Cartier and Indian royalty. Set in an Art Deco Cartier ring, the extraordinary Burmese ruby, weighing approximately 23.66 carats, sparked intense bidding from around the world before selling for just under $6 million.

The Graff Ruby

Sold for CHF 4,724,000 in 2006

A magnificent and rare ruby ring by Bulgari. Sold for CHF 4,724,000 on 15 February 2006 at Christie’s in St. Moritz, Palace Hotel

A magnificent and rare ruby ring by Bulgari. Sold for CHF 4,724,000 on 15 February 2006 at Christie’s in St. Moritz, Palace Hotel

Senior International Specialist Jean-Marc Lunel remembers his excitement when he entered a bank safe in Monaco and first laid eyes on this near perfect 8.62 carat Burmese ruby, which came to be known as ‘The Graff Ruby’. Combining the highly sought-after ‘pigeon’s blood’ red typical of old Burmese material and a high degree of transparency, which is rare in rubies, it came to auction with a pre-sale estimate of between $400,000 and $600,000. More than 20 minutes of bidding saw the final price reach the $3.6 million mark — at the time the highest price-per-carat ruby ever sold. 

The Hope Ruby

Sold for CHF 6,243,000 in 2012

A ruby and diamond ring by Chaumet. Sold for CHF 6,243,000 on 14 May 2012 at Christie’s in Geneva

A ruby and diamond ring by Chaumet. Sold for CHF 6,243,000 on 14 May 2012 at Christie’s in Geneva

The ‘Hope Ruby’ took its name after being sold in the Jewels for Hope charitable auction in May 2012. The Collection of Mrs Lily Safra, featuring storied jewels of most remarkable quality, was 100 per cent sold, realising $37,924,551. The top lot of the night was a 32.08 carat cushion-shaped Burmese ruby and diamond ring by Chaumet, which sold for more than $6.7 million —  a new world record price for any ruby sold at auction. The gemstone was formerly in the collection of Luz Mila Patiño, Countess du Boisrouvray.

Queen Victoria’s ruby brooch

Sold for CHF 365,000 in 2016

A ruby and diamond broochpendant. Sold for CHF 365,000 on 18 May 2016 at Christie’s in Geneva

A ruby and diamond brooch/pendant. Sold for CHF 365,000 on 18 May 2016 at Christie’s in Geneva

The portrait above shows Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, granddaughter to Queen Victoria, wearing a ruby and diamond suite, including the ruby and diamond brooch offered at Christie’s Geneva in May 2016. Queen Victoria recalls in her journal having received this extraordinary ruby and diamond parure from Prince Albert in 1849. Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain was the daughter of Princess Beatrice, youngest child of Queen Victoria, who stayed by her mother’s side until her death in 1901. This brooch was set with a ruby weighing 4.5 carats, originating from Burma and showing no clarity or colour enhancement. It soared past its pre-sale estimate of CHF 50,000-80,000, before selling for CHF 365,000.