GENEVA (AFP).- A plum-sized diamond known as the "Pink Star" was auctioned in Geneva Wednesday for $83 million, a world record for a gemstone.
David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby's jewellery division in Europe and the Middle East, brought down the hammer in a Geneva hotel after an intense, five-minute bidding race between four contenders.
The winner, a bearded man apparently in his sixties sporting a Jewish skullcap, ended pitted in a one-on-race against a telephone competitor to whom Patty Wong, chair of Sotheby's in Asia, spoke in Mandarin from the auction room.
The bearded man declined to identify himself to AFP but confirmed that he had been representing another individual.
Sotheby's later said the buyer was Isaac Wolf, a New York diamond cutter, who was going to rename the stone "The Pink Dream".
The diamond was the star of a high-end jewelry auction in the upscale Beau Rivage Hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva.
The "Pink Star" was the penultimate lot, and there were gasps of awe as a model stood next to Bennett on the auction podium wearing the diamond, which is mounted on a ring.
"And now for something different. One of the most remarkable gemstones ever to appear at auction," Bennett said as the bidding opened.
The auction was conducted in Swiss francs, starting at 48 million and working its way upwards million-by-million.
There was a long silence as the price reached 67 million Swiss francs, before the in-room bidder came back with the winning 68 million.
The final Swiss franc price, including Sotheby's premium, was 76.32 million -- the equivalent of $83.2 million.
The some 150 people in the auction room erupted into applause as the theme tune from the "Pink Panther" was played in a tongue-in-cheek gesture and staffed handed out glasses of pink champagne.
The diamond had been estimated at $60 million.
Three years ago, Sotheby's set an auction record of $46.2 million for a diamond when it sold the "Graff Pink" gemstone.
The Sotheby's auction came a day after rival house Christie's sold an almond-shaped diamond dubbed "The Orange" for $35.5 million, also a record in its category.
'A truly royal stone'
The 59.60-carat "Pink Star" is the largest in its class ever graded by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), with the second biggest less than half its size.
The sparkling oval-cut rock measures 2.69 by 2.06 centimetres (1.06 by 0.81 inches), and weighs 11.92 grammes (0.026 pounds).
In addition to its top colour and clarity ratings, it falls into a rare subgroup with the purest diamond crystals and extraordinary optical transparency, comprising less than two percent of all gem diamonds, according to the GIA.
"The pink diamond, I have no hesitation in saying, is a truly amazing, royal stone. There is no stone of that size and colour known," said Bennett.
The "Pink Star" was 132.5 carats in the rough when it was mined by De Beers in Africa in 1999, according to Sotheby's, which has not said which country it came from.
It was cut and polished over two years by Steinmetz Diamonds, and unveiled to the public in 2003 under the title of the "Steinmetz Pink".
The near-translucent rock was renamed after it was first sold four years later for an undisclosed sum to an unidentified buyer.
Sotheby's declined to name the seller in Wednesday's auction, nor would it say whether the gemstone had been bought and sold again since 2007.
Best known for shimmering white translucence, diamonds in fact come in all sorts of colours.
Green diamonds, for instance, are coloured by radioactivity in the ground, blue diamonds get their colour from boron, and yellow diamonds, which in very rare cases turn orange, are coloured by nitrogen.
"I think coloured diamonds have finally come of age. They are amongst rarest of all stones, and they are finally reaching the level where the is matching the rarity," said Bennett.
A vivid blue, 5.04-carat diamond ring fetched 6.1 million francs ($6.6 million) -- a million francs over its estimate.
And the final lot, the "Wasilewska Briolette Diamond" -- a yellow diamond brooch once owned by opera singer Ganna Wasilewska -- sold for 9.7 million francs ($10.5 million).
Beyond the diamonds, a 114.74-carat sapphire hit 7.6 million francs ($7.1 million), almost double its upper estimate.
Analysts note that investors have often turned to jewels in uncertain economic times. They also carry prestige for growing global elites.
"In the last 30 years, the market has become completely international," said Bennett.
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