Friday, January 8, 2010

Bling Bling

For more than a half-century, the whereabouts of one of the world’s most celebrated diamonds, the fabled Wittelsbach blue, was obscure. Every person with knowledge of great gems was likely to be familiar with the stone: A grayish blue diamond taken to Europe in the 17th century from India, it was given in 1664 to the Infanta Margarita Teresa by her father, the king of Spain, eventually becoming a fixture of both the Austrian and Bavarian crown jewels. In 1964 the stone passed into private hands, and afterward its whereabouts had been a mystery.

In December 2008, the Wittelsbach blue suddenly turned up at auction, centerpiece of Christie’s London sale of important gems. Expected to fetch $15 million, the cushion cut stone, described as a fancy deep grayish blue, was fought over by rival diamond dealers and hammered down in a matter of minutes for the extraordinary price of $24.3 million — the most ever paid for a diamond at auction and a sum that may also have rendered the Wittelsbach blue, by weight, the most valuable commodity on earth.

The buyer was Laurence Graff, the billionaire diamond dealer whose clients run to other newly minted billionaires, and in short order its new owner made a series of startling decisions about the stone. First, he had it recut, reducing it from 35.52 to just over 31 carats, to eliminate the chips and “bruises” inevitable in a stone of its age but also to improve its clarity, brilliance and grade. Then he renamed it the Wittelsbach-Graff and struck an agreement with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to display it.

Infanta Margarita Teresa

Order of the Golden Fleece ornament

Ludwig I (Louis I) of Bavaria standing beside the Bavarian Crown mounted with the original Wittelsbach diamond.

Late this month, it will go on view alongside the legendary Hope, a larger stone but a slightly more drab one, and yet a rock whose allure remains potent enough to have drawn five million visitors to the national collection last year.



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