LONDON.- Christies are privileged to present the Wittelsbach diamond, an extremely rare 35.56 carat, historic 17th century fancy deep greyish-blue diamond, to the international market for the first time in almost 80 years, on Wednesday 10 December 2008. Known as Der Blaue Wittelsbacher since 1722, it is one of very few diamonds which can claim 17th century heritage, incredible rarity and exceptional beauty. Upon the engagement of the Infanta Margarita Teresa (1651-1673), to Leopold I of Austria (1640-1705), who later became Holy Roman Emperor, her father King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665) selected, in 1664, the diamond as part of her dowry. Subsequently, it entered the Austrian and then the Bavarian Crown jewels. This extraordinary diamond is offered for sale from a private collection, where it has been since 1964.
It is a great honour and a lifetime dream to handle a museum quality stone such as the Wittelsbach. The appearance of a large blue diamond, among the rarest of colours, with a history that can be traced back to the 17th Century and 300 years of Royal connections will surely be a thrilling occasion for all collectors of exceedingly rare jewels and works of art, said François Curiel, Chairman of Christie's Europe and International Head of Jewellery.
The diamond market as a whole, like the international jewellery market, continues to be strong. The level of demand for coloured diamonds is high, with a 13.39 carat fancy intense blue diamond fetching $8.9 million, a world auction record, at Christies Geneva in May 2008; though no examples to date are comparable with the Wittelsbach diamond being offered at Christies London. Blue diamonds are rare and to offer a blue diamond of this size, quality, shape and provenance is truly extraordinary. In the mid-1980s the Christies sale of a 0.95 carat red diamond for $850,000 marked the start of true appreciation of coloured diamonds and, today, their great rarity makes them the most desirable of all.
King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665) is known to have selected only the very finest gemstones for the dowry of his fifteen year old daughter, the Infanta Margarita Teresa (1651-1673), upon her betrothal. This included the exceptionally rare 35.56 carat greyish-blue blue diamond originating from the famous Indian diamond mines. Upon the Princesss untimely death in 1673 her husband, Emperor Leopold I of Austria (1640-1705) retained the dowry and the diamond was passed on to his heirs.
In 1722 the diamond entered the Wittelsbach family, on the occasion of the marriage of Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria (1701-1756) to the Bavarian Crown Prince, Charles Albert (1697-1745), and became a prized family possession. It was worn by successive rulers in both the Order of the Golden Fleece and the Bavarian Royal Crown until the abdication of King Ludwig III (1845-1921) in 1918.
India: The Source for many of the Worlds Greatest Diamonds
Diamonds were discovered during the 4th century B.C. in India, which remained their only source until 1723. Being greatly prized for their size and beauty, they were mined largely in the State of Hyderabad and sent to their principle sorting centre, Golconda, hence the name of many of these special gemstones. Blue diamonds were also mined in the State of Bihar; the fourth Mogul Emperor, Jahangir (1569-1627), stated in his memoirs that diamonds from this place are of a variety and beauty above all other kinds of diamonds, he particularly mentions a large blue piece of diamond which, unlike today, was not considered to be as valuable as a colourless gem. Perhaps this is the extraordinary diamond which later became the Wittlesbach. The largest and most famous blue diamond in the world is the Hope Diamond, a 45-carat deep blue stone, formerly from the French Crown Jewels and now in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
Historic Royal Diamonds
Until 1723, all diamonds worn by European Royalty came from India. Today, only very few survive and can be traced back to their original owners. Among the most famous are the Koh-I-Noor now in the British Crown Jewels, the Régent at the Louvre Museum, Paris and the Orlov Diamond in the Kremlin. The appearance of the Wittelsbach at auction is a landmark event, as it encapsulates all that one looks for in a gemstone or indeed a work of art: history, Royal provenance, exceptional beauty and original condition.