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SA connection in record auction of Indian jewellery

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Bidders came from 45 countries and included a significant number of institutions.

After a 12-hour auction presided over by five auctioneers, Christie’s Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence collection fetched $109.2million (over R1.5billion) in New York recently – the highest total achieved at any auction of Indian art and Mughal objects.

Almost 400 lots were offered, ranging from legendary Golconda diamonds to dazzling coloured stones, jewelled objects used in the royal courts to swords and daggers once owned by Indian rulers. Bidders came from 45 countries and included a significant number of institutions.

There was a South African connection in the highest price of the sale – a Belle Epoque devant-de-corsage by Cartier, which fetched $10.6m. Made to order in 1912 for Solomon (“Solly”) Barnato Joel, who made his fortune in the South African diamond mines, it is a stunning example of the delicate Lily-of-the-Valley setting used by Cartier at the time.

Joel was the nephew of the legendary Barney Barnato, one of the so-called British Randlord entrepreneurs who gained control of diamond, and later gold, mining in South Africa towards the end of the 19th century.

The Shah Jahan Dagger sold for $3.3m to establish the record price for an Indian jade object and the record for a piece with Shah Jahan provenance. Shah Jahan was India’s fifth Mughal emperor who ruled from 1628 to 1658 and who built the Taj Mahal.

Another star lot, an art deco emerald belt buckle by Cartier, sold for $1.5m – more than three times the presale estimate. The buckle was designed for Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley, who wore it to the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

An amazing 93% of the lots at the marathon auction were sold.

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