Auction date set for a gigantic gemstone mired in controversy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2008, 12:00am

The 'gift from heaven' - a 536kg piece of black rock encrusted with emeralds and coated in a little controversy - will soon land on an auction block in the city.

The gemstone - advertised as a Guinness record-setter for the world's 'largest emerald on matrix' - goes on sale during a December 6 auction at the Baoqu Tang Modern Art Gallery in the InterContinental hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, the gallery said.

The estimated value of the 1.25 metre long rock ranges from HK$380 million to HK$830 million, it said.

'With its fantastic jade-green colour and translucency, emerald[s] of various sizes glitter against the black background colour of its mother matrix, and together with its perfect shape,' the gemstone looks like green forests on an island after spring rain, the gallery said.

'You have to admire the miracle of nature.'

Ownership of the gemstone was disputed in late July when a delegation, sent by the Madagascar government, visited Hong Kong to try to reacquire it.

The group said the rock, at that time on display at the Baoqu Tang gallery, was taken unlawfully from their country.

Luc Herve Rakotoarimanana, a member of the government delegation, said last summer that excavators were only permitted to mine for green beryl, not emeralds, and should have declared any emerald finds to the government.

Orgaco, a French-registered company that owns the rock, denied the claims, saying the extraction, purchase of the stone and the exportation were all permitted.

On the mining matter, the company, said: 'The stone is a green beryl and emerald is only the colour.'

It was unclear when the Madagascar delegation left the city and what happened during its stay.

But in August, a worker at the consulate passed on an e-mail from the delegation to the Post. It read: 'The Malagasy Government [does not] give up.'

Yesterday, the consulate did not comment.

The gemstone has been on display in the gallery since June 20.