A History of the World’s Most Expensive Pieces of Jewelry

Found deep within the earth, not even the extreme dangers of mining can keep people away from the obscure chunks of precious stone that have been considered of utmost value since even the most ancient civilizations. These precious stones, such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and jade, are an undying symbol of wealth and luxury.

Throughout history, jewels have been passed through the hands of royalty and socialites alike, sometimes even gifted from one to the next. Their monetary value reaches such exorbitant heights because of the demand of these jewels among the rich, royal, and famous. The following seven pieces of jewelry are some of the most expensive throughout all of time.

Have you ever wondered what the most expensive jewelry looked like? What kind of stone, what kind of piece (necklace? Ring? Bracelet?) What follows are the most expensive and rare jewelry pieces sold for.

1. The Hope Diamond — $250 million

close up image of the hope diamond

The most expensive and perhaps the most famous jewel in the world is a 45.52 carat blue stone known as the Hope Diamond. Experts think its unusual blue coloring comes from impurities caused by trace amounts of boron atoms.

Aside from its magical look, legends about the diamond’s bad luck and curses have created the opposite effect, making it a jewel that has been highly sought after throughout history. These legends may have been stimulated by the strange luminescence in the diamond. It’s trace amounts of boron leave the stone glowing a startling red when removed from all light sources.

Before it became the Hope Diamond, this stone was even larger than it is now. It is thought to have come from the Golkonda mines in Southern India. In 1666, it was bought by a French gem merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and named the Tavernier Blue. Not too long after, it was cut and renamed the French Blue, under which name it was sold in 1668 by Tavernier to King Louis XIV.

In 1792, the French Blue was stolen from the royal family and cut again. The largest section of what remained of the diamond was named Hope upon its appearance in a London banking family’s gem collection in 1839. Their last name was Hope. From then it had several owners, but was eventually sold to a young socialite millionaire from Washington named Evelyn Walsh McLean in 1911. When she died (after undergoing many tragedies that are said to have come from the diamond’s curse), it was sold to another gem merchant named Harry Winston in 1949. He toured it for years before donating it to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in 1958, where it still remains on exhibit.

2. Peacock Brooch — $100 million

the peacock brooch by graff diamondsThe Peacock Brooch made by Graff Diamonds may not have quite as much history as the Hope Diamond, but its value is roughly $100 million nonetheless. It was first released in 2013 at the TEFAF art fair in the Netherlands. The brooch, shaped like a peacock with fanned feathers, contains a total of 120.81 carats and over 1,300 stones in white, yellow, blue, and orange diamonds. A very rare, dark blue pear-shaped diamond sits at the center, and alone totals 20.02 carats.

Graff Diamonds was founded in 1960 by Lawrence Graff. Now the company is a multinational jeweler whose home base is in London. All jewelry that comes from Graff follows the Kimberly Process, an ethics model that does not allow the buying or use diamonds that would perpetuate human suffering or conflict. Graff has a number of other pricey jewels on the market, including the Wittelsback-Graff Diamond valued at $80 million and the Graff Pink valued at $46.2 million.

The whereabouts and ownership of the Peacock Brooch are not public at this time.

3.Pink Star — $71.2 million

image of the pink star diamond ring
The Pink Star diamond is 59.6 carats, though it was originally cut from a 132.5 carat rough diamond. It was mined by a renowned, international corporation of diamond miners, De Beers, in 1999 from South Africa. After 20 months of cutting, the Pink Star took its current shape. The Gemology Institute of America has graded this stone as the largest Internally Flawless, Fancy Vivid pink diamond known to this day.

Before it became the Pink Star, this rare gem was known as the Steinmetz Pink, where it was displayed at the Smithsonian Institute as part of its exhibit, “The Splendor of Diamonds.” In 2017, it was auctioned at $71.2 million to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises in Hong Kong.

4. Oppenheimer Blue – $57.5 million

picture of the diamond called Oppenheimer BlueNamed after Phillip Oppenheimer, the Oppenheimer Blue weighs 14.62 carats. It is a vivid blue diamond with an emerald cut. This diamond holds nearly the same record as the Pink Star: it has been named the largest Fancy Vivid blue diamond by the Gemological Institute of America. In 2016, it auctioned at $57.5 million to a party not released to the public.

The history of the Oppenheimer diamond is largely a mystery, other than the fact that it was mined somewhere in South Africa, likely sometime in the early 20th century. Further details are unknown because it is thought to have come from one of De Beers’ mines, and that company has closed its archives.

What is known is the history of the man whose name the diamond has taken. The Oppenheimer family has been renowned in the diamond business for more than a century. The diamond was named specifically for Sir Phillip Oppenheimer, who acquired the stone as a gift for his wife, though details about when that happened and how much was paid are also not known. He died in 1995, and the first transaction with this diamond took place in 1999. At this time, it weighed slightly more, at 14.71 carats.

5. L’Incomparable Diamond Necklace – $55 million

L’Incomparable Diamond displayedSet on a bed of 18k gold are 407.48 carats of diamonds that make up the L’Incomparable Diamond necklace. At its center is the largest Internally Flawless yellow diamond known, which is about the size of an egg. It is currently the most valuable necklace in the world, owned by Mouawad, a Swiss and Emirati luxury goods company, being sold for $55 million dollars as of 2013.

The large diamond at the center of the necklace has a bit an unusual history. A young girl in the Democratic Republic of Congo discovered it randomly in a pile of mining rubble roughly 30 years ago.

6. Blue Moon of Josephine – $48.4 million

This diamond was bought in 2014 by the convicted-felon fugitive Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung. He bought it for his seven-year-old daughter Josephine, after whom he named the stone. It is 12.03 carats and cost the felon $48.4 million, the most per carat a diamond of any color has ever sold for.

The Blue Moon of Josephine, discovered in 2014, is another diamond from the mines of South Africa. With a rare crystal blue color, when it was found in the rough by Petra Diamonds, it was 29.6 carats and hard to miss. Its current owner Lau became a felon that same year for bribing a former minister in Macau. He is not serving time in jail, and remains a fugitive, because Macau and Hong Kong do not have an extradition agreement.

7. The Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite Necklace – $27.4 million

Jadeite necklace jewelryNow owned by the Cartier Collection, this famous piece of jade jewelry made of 27 graduated jadeite beads, with a clasp of 18k yellow gold, rubies, and diamonds, has a notable history in royalty. Its previous owner, American socialite and heiress Barbara Hutton, was gifted the necklace by her father as a wedding gift for her marriage to Georgian Prince Alexis Mdivani in 1933. The necklace was specifically designed for Hutton and remained in the family for five decades, until Hutton’s death in 1979. Barbara Hutton was heiress to the retail tycoon Frank Winfield Woolworth, which made her one of the wealthiest women in the world by age 21.

The necklace itself is an exceptional piece of jewelry due to the fact that such high quality jade usually can not yield beads more than 10mm in diameter due to the scarcity of jadeite boulders. With each bead of the necklace measuring over 15mm in diameter and all beads carved from the same boulder, the Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite necklace is a true rarity, hence its price.

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