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May 16, 2013

Geneva auction sells huge diamond for $26.7M

GENEVA — A huge diamond unearthed in Botswana commanded an unearthly price of $26.7 million from Christie's auction house Wednesday amid the spring ritual of well-heeled bidders flocking or phoning in to Geneva's luxury sales.

The pear-shaped gem accounted for more than a quarter of the $102 million in sales rung up by Christie's Wednesday night, a night after Sotheby's had $78 million in sales.

"A perfect diamond commands a perfect price," Christie's trumpeted on Twitter of the record sale price for the largest D-color flawless diamond ever offered at auction — a whopping 101.73 carats that took 21 months to polish.

Jewelry, watches and other luxury items are sold every spring by the big auction houses at Geneva's elegant lakefront hotels — seemingly a world away from some European countries whose economies are shrinking as their governments enact often tough budget austerity measures to get a handle on their debts.

Sotheby's auction featured a diamond jewelry collection belonging to Italian screen actress Gina Lollobrigida that fetched $4.9 million, some of which she plans to donate to stem cell research.

The auction house said eight bidders fought for Lollobrigida's pair of diamond and natural pearl earrings, which finally sold for more than $2.3 million and set a new auction record for such an item.

The 85-year-old actress, who starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra and other top actors in the 1950s and 1960s, said she was selling the jewelry partly to fund an international hospital for stem cell treatment.

Sotheby's also sold a 74.53-carat fancy yellow diamond that once belonged to Ahmad Shah Qajar, the shah of Persia from 1909 to 1925 and the last ruler of the Qajar dynasty. Its sale for nearly $3 million set both an auction record and a record price per carat — an eye-popping $40,061 per carat — for a fancy yellow diamond.

Among other items auctioned off Tuesday night was Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi's Audemars Piguet No. 10 Royal Oak Chronograph wristwatch, which sold for $81,850 to raise money for the four-time FIFA player of the year's foundation.

After that auction, Lollobrigida said her jewels had brought her much pleasure for many years, but she hopes that "selling them will raise awareness of stem cell therapy, which can cure so many illnesses."

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