PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 9:57am

There was plenty of drama at Christie's Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels auction on Tuesday, which raked in just over HK$640.5 million from about 290 lots including signed pieces from Cartier, Tiffany & Co and Van Cleef & Arpels.

In late afternoon, a bidding war raged over an ornate Boucheron necklace from the 1950s. An elderly Asian woman in a pale blue suit battled with a telephone bidder for several minutes before throwing her hands up in concession. The crowd erupted into applause when the hammer came down at HK$38.5 million (HK$44.1 with the premium).

Acquired from a prestigious family who chose to remain anonymous, the necklace features a line of cushion-shaped diamonds which suspend a fringe of rare Colombian emeralds.

Minutes later, murmurs travelled through the saleroom as Christie's star lot, the largest briolette diamond to appear at auction, was sold for HK$86.1 million to an anonymous bidder, setting a world record for a diamond of its kind. Like the famed Koh-i-Noor diamond in Queen Elizabeth II's crown, the rare type IIa gem is known for its purity and transparent nature. Dangling from a marquise-cut purplish pink diamond, the droplet-shaped diamond weighs 75.36 carats.

"This was not just another important diamond," says Rahul Kadakia, Christie's head of jewellery. "It is the largest internally flawless diamond that has ever been graded by the GIA [Gemological Institute of America]."

Among the most sought-after pieces was a signed Cartier necklace, which sold for HK$21.7 million. Set within a lattice of diamonds, the centrepiece is a striking 44.53-carat Burmese sapphire.

"With its history of using fine gemstones and buying and selling to the best families, [its jewellery] has always been desirable," says Kadakia of Cartier. Its styles hold sway: "It's not just that they take a piece of gold, stick a diamond in it, and here's a ring. There's an edge to the design."

Contemporary Asian designers such as Anna Hu also proved popular. Hu's Orpheus ring fetched HK$20 million, five times its lower estimate. The unusual ring features a large oval jadeite cabochon accented by pave-set diamonds and playful yellow and pink diamond details. Known for her East-West aesthetic, Hu has been worn by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman and Madonna.

Asked about trends in the jewellery market, Kadakia replies: "Natural pearls have taken off." Describing them as a dying gemstone, he says prices have climbed over the years. A top lot in the sale was a simple double-strand natural pearl necklace with a diamond and emerald clasp. Selling for HK$18.9 million, it exceeded its presale estimate. The 150 saltwater pearls were sourced from the coast of Bahrain. "In the 1920s and '30s, Louis Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels travelled to the Middle East to try to find these pearls, but now with the oil drilling and pollution, there are no more oysters left," he says.

Kadakia compares rare natural pearl necklaces to Picasso paintings: "Collectors have now started regarding jewellery as works of art."