Sun, Sep 27, 2015

Art & Auctions
Spinel goes for record $1.46m

A rare British-owned gemstone steeped in history and intrigue sold for a record $30,000 per carat at Bonhams sale of fine jewellery in London, UK.

The previous world record price per carat for a faceted spinel was $16,000. which was set in 2013.

Called the Hope Spinel, the gem was bought by a private telephone bidder for the sum of £962,500 ($1.46 million).

Bidding came from round the world via 18 telephone lines, online as well as bidders in Bonhams London New Bond Street saleroom. Bonhams CEO and Global Head of Jewellery Matthew Girling led the September 24 auction of the gem. 

The Hope Spinel was part of one of the world’s greatest gem collections until its owner – London banker Henry Philip Hope – died in 1839.  

Set in a 19th century silver and gold brooch, the huge 50.13 carats octagonal-cut stone is the size of a small plum and of similar colouring with a splendid rose hue.

It had not been offered for sale since 1917 when it went for £1,060 ($1,609), the equivalent of £80,000 ($121,440) in today’s money.

Bonhams was expecting bids in the region of £150,000 to £200,000 ($227700 to 303600) for the treasure although bidding became fierce between several telephone bidders.

Jean Ghika, Director of Bonhams Jewellery for the UK and Europe, commented: "We are delighted with the price it has made. It was an exceptional gemstone with a priceless provenance and these pieces just don’t come to the open market often and when they do, they are hotly contested.

“Bonhams is honoured to have been chosen to handle the sale of such a unique and magnificent gem."

The incredible transparency and impeccable cut of the Hope Spinel means it is classed as an “exceptional treasure” - but its provenance is equally fascinating (see notes to editors).

Very large historical specimens of spinels were found in the ancient Kuh-i-Lal mines, in Tajikistan. These include the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby both in the Crown Jewels. Both are called rubies when in fact they are spinels.

Jean Ghika of Bonhams adds: “These historic mines are geographically difficult to access and by the 20th century they weren’t used due to political reasons. Spinels of this size and quality are therefore exceptionally rare even without the provenance of the Hope Spinel.”

The Hope Spinel was assessed by SSEF, a premier gemmological laboratory in Switzerland, who have confirmed it is from these ancient mines and due to its exceptional transparency, flawless cut, beautiful colour and large size, it is classed as an exceptional treasure of nature.


Henry Philip Hope was from a dynasty of incredibly rich and powerful merchant bankers.

 By the end of the 18th century the Hope family, based in Amsterdam, ran one of the most powerful banks in the world.

Hope moved to the UK at the end of the 18th century to escape political upheaval on the continent. He settled in London with his elder brother and they used their tremendous wealth to form important and very valuable art collections.

Hope never married and secretly gifted his collection - including the Hope Spinel and the Hope Blue Diamond, once owned by Sun King Louis XIV - to a nephew to avoid death duties.

Instead, the 700-strong collection became the subject of a decade-long inheritance feud, legal wrangling and bitter recriminations.

The Hope Spinel and several of the most valuable gems were eventually separated from the collection to resolve the issue.

By 1917, all that remained of the Hope collections were finally dispersed at Christies and the Hope Spinel was lot 35 in the sale of ‘The Hope Heirlooms’.

The spinel was bought by a dealer for £1,060 and it next turned up in the collection of Lady Mount Stephen, who was married to a Canadian philanthropist living in the UK.  She was a close friend of Queen Mary and gifted a diamond necklace to Queen Mary that Princess Margaret eventually wore on her wedding day.

The current owner is a direct descendant who has always known it as being ‘Aunt Gian’s (Lady Mount Stephen) Hope spinel’.


Hope formed one of the most important private collections of gems in the early 19th century, including more than 700 gemstones, one of which was the Hope Blue Diamond which is now in the National Museum of Natural History, which is part of the Smithsonian.

Hope arranged his collection scientifically and kept them in a bespoke mahogany cabinet, the treasures of the collection were kept in the 16th drawer and these included:  The Hope Diamond, the Hope Pearl (then the largest baroque natural pearl known), an emerald from the turban of Tipu Sultan and The Hope Spinel.

Jean Ghika of Bonhams adds: “That the spinel and the Hope Diamond were kept together is testament to how important it is and how much Hope valued it.”

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