We attend the Christie's auction in Geneva, where the 163.41-carat diamond set in a stunning necklace sold for Dh125 million
Fly on the auction wall: de Grisogono sells world's largest D flawless diamond
Even in the rough, it was clear that this stone was something special. “Normally, there are black points, or cracks, or something,” Fawaz Gruosi, founder of the Swiss jewellery brand de Grisogono, tells me. “Whereas this was flawless. I quickly realised it was going to be something that hadn’t been seen before.”
He is referring to 4 de Fevereiro, a 404.20-carat rough diamond named for the day it was discovered, February 4, 2016, in Angola’s Lulo mine. It was the largest white rough diamond to be found in Angola, and the 27th largest in the world.
The stone was acquired by de Grisogono via Dubai-based diamond trading company Nemesis International and, tellingly, this is the same word that Gruosi uses to describe it. “I thought, a year and a half ago, that I had done everything in my career,” he says. “I couldn’t see what else there was. And then came my nemesis, this chance to create a new kind of treasure. It’s a lesson that, in life, anything can happen. You never know.”
The stone was first unveiled by de Grisogono in May 2016, at the Cannes Film Festival (where, Gruosi says, he kept picking it up and holding it, “for luck”). From that point until it was sold at a Christie’s auction in Geneva last month, it became his raison d’être.
Leading experts from around the world were enlisted to help retrieve the best possible cut. And after nine months of intensive analysis, scanning, mapping, cutting and polishing in New York and Antwerp, Gruosi was left with a truly exceptional gem: a 163.41-carat, D-colour, flawless, emerald-cut diamond that, on November 14, became the largest of its kind to be sold at auction.
I am presented with the stone in a private room in Geneva’s historic Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues. It is weighty, substantial, and sits snug in my palm. Like a cut-glass domino, its clarity is almost impossible for the eye to comprehend. These are sentiments shared by Tom Moses, executive vice president of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “Even though we grade and test most of the important diamonds in the world, to see something this special is truly exciting, even after decades of doing this,” he said when he first saw the gem. “I’m sure it will go down in the archives as one of the more important diamonds in history.”
Gruosi affectionately refers to the stone as a “she” and admits that once he had her in his possession, he felt a heavy weight of responsibility. His creative process is normally instinctive and spontaneous, he says (and anyone familiar with de Grisogono’s colourful, unconventional creations will know this to be true). But it was different this time around.
“Any idea that comes into my mind that I like, I implement immediately. Here, she stopped me. She was the only one that stopped me. I started to be a little nervous. The responsibility of that stone was huge. How to be really different? There are a lot of other jewellers who have had big stones, but have just paired them with a small chain or something like that, and I didn’t like that. That is not the point of being a jewellery designer.”
It is true that many other jewellers would have been so humbled by the stone that they would have introduced minimal adornment. But that has never been the de Grisogono way. Instead, Gruosi opted to dress it up further.
He came up with 50 potential designs and, in the end, settled on a necklace that pairs the diamond with a sweeping chain featuring 66 pear-cut emeralds, framed by almost 6,000 brilliant-cut emeralds, on one side, and 18 emerald-cut diamonds, set amid a further 863 brilliant-cut diamonds, on the other. “You can see the amount of work here – it’s 1,700 hours, which is totally insane,” says Gruosi proudly.
He’s right; the level of detail and intricacy is insane. And there’s a further twist: the diamond is fully detachable, and can be removed from the necklace to be placed on an oversized cuff, making “it something that can be worn every day”, says Gruosi. It speaks to the audacity that lies at the heart of the de Grisogono brand that Gruosi imagines that a 163-carat diamond can be worn casually “with jeans and a shirt”.
I see him a few hours before the auction is set to begin. He looks tired – the anticipation must be weighing on him. If the sale is a success, Creation I will become Gruosi’s legacy, a culmination of his life’s work and an emblem for the brand that he has built from scratch. As it is, this ambitious undertaking is already a strong statement of intent – a way for a relatively young house (de Grisogono was founded 25 years ago, which is a mere drop in the ocean when compared to the centuries-old legacies of some of the world’s best known jewellery brands) to finally take its place at the upper echelons of the industry.
I ask him how his stress levels are faring. “Ask me in a few hours,” he retorts with a wry smile. The brand has been tight-lipped about how much it expects Creation I to sell for and, when I look, Christie’s has not published an estimate – but Gruosi lets it slip. “Between US$30 million and $40 million [up to Dh147m],” he reveals.
Bidding begins at 9pm that day, in the ballroom at the Four Seasons. The room is full and hot under temporary spotlights that have no doubt been rigged up to ensure that Rahul Kadakia, international head of high jewellery at Christie’s and tonight’s auctioneer, can see all the action on the floor. De Grisogono’s tie-up with Christie’s is a stroke of genius. Founded in the 1700s, the auction house is as established as it gets – and offers a final layer of validity and legitimacy to Creation I’s story. Also, as Gruosi points out, it gives his brand a chance to speak to a new, much broader, audience.
There are more than 200 objects in the Christie’s sale, and Gruosi’s necklace is last but one to go under the hammer. Bidding starts at a respectable 20m Swiss francs (almost Dh75m); just over three-and-a-half minutes later, Creation I has a new owner – and has set a world record for a D flawless diamond sold at auction, garnering CHF33.5m (Dh125m), including the buyer’s premium.
“I think it was in line with where we thought the stone was going to go and I am happy to see that there was a bit of healthy competitive bidding in the room and on the telephones,” Kadakia says when I catch up with him straight after the auction.
“It’s a very impressive piece, even for someone like me, who is in the jewellery business. When you look at Creation I, the combination of the necklace, the size of the diamond – it is perfection in terms of its colour and purity – the cut, the faceting. That in itself is very impressive; then you have the scale and the design of the piece.
“All of this combines into a great object, a work of art, almost, which is why it is aptly called Creation I,” Kadakia continues. “All in all, it was a good evening. There were healthy prices and a room full of clients; everyone was happy, so we were very happy with how things played out.”
I am not entirely sure that Gruosi is happy as he heads out of the room – the expression on his face would suggest otherwise. I wonder if he is, on some level, relieved to be parting ways with his nemesis. And, in truth, even if the price is not quite what he would have liked, the gamble pays off. The next day, news sites around the world are telling the story of a one-of a kind necklace that sold for a record amount – in the process, establishing de Grisogono as a brand that is unashamedly bold, in both its designs and its ambitions.