(Update: On 15 May 2018, the Farnese Blue diamond sold for CHF 6,719,750/ S$8,998,927 to an anonymous buyer.)
From opulent tiaras to rare artworks and specially-commissioned furniture, the auction block has always been the best place to turn to for a piece of royal memorabilia. There’s something particularly romantic and fascinating about owning an item that was passed down through kings and queens while withstanding the test of time. Even more appealing is the fact that such artefacts are typically one-of-a-kind and have witnessed key moments in history — think weddings, wars and political exile.
Checking all the boxes for these is the Farnese Blue, a 6.16-carat, pear-shaped blue diamond that has emerged on the market for the first time, after being owned by royalty for more than 300 years. It goes up for auction at Sotheby’s Geneva on 15 May, and is expected to fetch between CHF 3.5 million to CHF 5 million (S$4.84 million to S$6.92 million).
The fancy dark grey-blue sparkler comes surrounded with a pinched-collet setting of cushion-shaped diamonds, and is nestled in a box adorned with a plaque stating its provenance. Sourced from the Golconda mines in India, it was first presented to Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, as a wedding gift from the governor of the Philippines in 1715. She later gave it to her son Philip, the Duke of Parma, who bequeathed it to his son Ferdinand during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy.
The following decades saw the diamond move down through generations of Farnese’s descendants in Spain, France, Italy and Austria. One of its owners was Robert I, the last ruling Duke of Parma from 1848 to 1907, who was exiled in Austria during the Italian unification (when the various states of the Italian peninsula were merged together as one country). At that time, the Farnese Blue was set on a diadem.
The diamond’s last known owner was Robert I’s son, Elias of Bourbon. If you’re wondering how the diamond managed to stay in the same family for over three centuries, it was actually hidden in a royal casket for most of the time. Its existence was known only to close relatives, and the family jewellers who helped incorporate it into jewellery pieces. If not for a written record compiled by Elias’ wife, Maria Anna von Habsburg the Archduchess of Austria, its history would perhaps have never come to light.
Prior to its sale at Sotheby’s Geneva’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels auction, the Farnese Blue will go on an international tour where it’ll be exhibited in Hong Kong (29 March to 2 April), London (7 to 10 April), New York (13 to 17 April), Singapore (27 to 28 April) and Taipei (1 to 2 May). It’ll also be displayed in Geneva for three days before going under the hammer.