Royal provenance makes historic jewellery highly collectible

From a cross worn by the late Princess Diana up for sale at a current Sotheby’s auction to Marie Antoinette’s sensational diamond bracelets, jewellery with regal ties holds unique value beyond its weight in gold

Garrard Amethyst and diamond pendant, circa 1920. (Photo: Sotheby's)
Garrard Amethyst and diamond pendant, circa 1920. Photo: Sotheby’s

Symbols of wealth, power and status, jewellery is an important part of any royal family’s image. For maharajahs and kings and queens, the power to wear and loan jewellery to family members is also a form of control and a way to play favours. 

Passed down from one generation to another, crown jewels are precious and have built unique provenances over the centuries. Their important role in history and the influential individuals who’ve worn them give these pieces value beyond their worth in gold and precious gems.

The unique connection to royalty can easily up the price of a piece of jewellery ten folds. Case in point– Sotheby’s is set to auction a pendant the jeweller Garrard loaned to the late Diana Princess of Wales on several occasions. The vintage 1920s amethyst cross, currently up on an online auction live until 18 January, is estimated to sell between £80,000 (HK$758,735) to £120,000 (HK$1,137,930). 

The unsigned piece was once owned by Garrard, the jewellery which made Diana’s famous sapphire and diamond engagement that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, currently wears. The jeweller is said to have loaned the piece to Diana for several public appearances, including a charity event at a Garrard boutique. 

The statement piece measures a substantial 13.6 x 9.5 cm, which Diana last wore on a long chain in 1987. The purple cross captures a unique period in British royal history and represents a transition to an overall bolder, more confident aesthetics in fashion. 

The piece eventually landed in the private collection of Naim Attallah, CBE, whose final role at Asprey & Garrard was as CEO.

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Though loaded with a substantial amount of amethysts and roughly 4.25 to 5.25 carats of accenting small diamonds, the estimate of the piece is said to grossly exceed the value of the gemstones, according to online jewellery retailer 77 Diamonds’ managing director Tobias Kormind.

“The piece has limited intrinsic value because amethysts are not the most precious of gemstones, and at 77 Diamonds, we would charge under £7,000 (HK$66,379) to remake something in a similar style to this pendant,” Kormind says.

He believes the high estimate is linked to the necklace’s connection to Diana and the rare yet relatively accessible price point of a piece with such illustrious provenance. “I attribute the very high estimate from Sotheby’s to the simple fact that it is a Garrard jewel from the 1920s which was worn by Princess Diana, and so few pieces of jewellery worn by Princess Diana have ever come up at auction.”

It’s not unusual for jewellery pieces with royal ties to sell for far more than the value of their gems on the rare occasion they come on the auction block. 

A pair of Marie Antoinette’s diamonds sold for a staggering US$8.2 million (HK$64,016,663) at Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels in November 2021, doubling the house’s high estimate of US$4 million (HK$31,227,640).

The French queen was said to have hidden them in January 1791 during the French Revolution before she headed to the guillotine in 1793. According to Christie’s, the diamond bracelets, which had 140 to 150 carats of diamonds, eventually landed in a private royal collection where they remained for 200 years. 

Christie’s historian was able to retrace the origins of the bracelets and determined Antoinette had to liquidate some of her other gems and borrow from King Louis XVI to pay the equivalent of US$4.6 million (HK$35,910,237) in today’s terms for the pair of bracelets.  

Exchange rates as of time of publishing

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