AUCTION

Mystery diamond buyer revealed: Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau spends US$48m on ‘Blue Moon Diamond’ for seven-year-old daughter

The stunning purchase came one day after tycoon paid US$28m for a pink stone - and he has named both diamonds after daughter Josephine

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 7:46am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 8:34am

The mystery surrounding the identity of a Hong Kong-based diamond buyer who now owns three of the world’s most expensive gems has been revealed: billionaire fugitive Joseph Lau Luen-hung has confirmed to the South China Morning Post that he was the buyer of the diamonds, and that he had renamed them after his seven-year-old daughter Josephine.

The rare and flawless 12.03 carat “Blue Moon Diamond” sold on Wednesday for 48.6 million Swiss francs (US$48.4 million), setting world records for any gemstone at auction, Sotheby's said.

Lau, the former chairman of Chinese Estates Holdings, is listed by Forbes as the sixth richest man in Hong Kong and 114th wealthiest globally, with estimated assets worth US$9.8 billion as of November.

READ MORE: Joseph Lau sits on paper profit of HK$5b after Chinese Estate deals

He is also a fugitive, after being jailed in absentia in Macau in March last year for his part in a bribes-for-land racket involving Ao Man-long, the most corrupt public official ever brought to justice in the city's history. He received a five-year jail term, but has not served one day in prison because the former Portuguese enclave does not have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. 

Macau's Court of Second Instance yesterday rejected appeals by Lau and Steven Lo Kit-sing against their bribery and money laundering convictions. The court upheld sentences of five years and three months against the pair.

The sale came only one day after Lau paid 28.7 million Swiss francs for a magnificent 16.08 carat pink diamond at Christie’s.

The pink stone was promptly renamed the “Sweet Josephine”. The blue has been renamed “The Blue Moon of Josephine”.

Josephine's mother is Lau’s girlfriend, called Chan Hoi-wan, a former entertainment reporter.

The cushion-shaped blue stone, mounted on a ring, has the top grading of fancy vivid blue. A pre-sale estimate put its value at between US$35 million and US$55 million.

“It is a new record price for any gemstone and per carat,” David Bennett, worldwide chairman of Sotheby's international jewellery division, told a packed showroom in Geneva that erupted into applause on Wednesday.

Bennett said the buyer had immediately renamed the stone, noting that it had also set a world record for any jewel at more than US$4 million per carat.

“For me the Blue Moon was always the blue diamond of my career. I've never seen a more beautiful stone - its shape, colour and purity. It's a magical stone,” Bennett said.

WATCH: Rare pink diamond bought by Hong Kong collector fetches over US$28 million

Lau and fellow Hong Kong property developer Steven Lo Kit-sing were each given jail sentences of five years and three months by Macau's Court of First Instance last year after being found guilty of corruption and money laundering. But they will not serve any time unless they return to the city voluntarily.

The court found that Lau and Lo offered a HK$20 million bribe to disgraced public works chief Ao Man-long to secure the site for their La Scala luxury development.

Lau is also known as a collector of artworks and wine. His passion for art was revealed when he snapped up Andy Warhol's famous painting of Mao Zedong for US$17.4 million and Paul Gauguin's 1892 painting Te Poipoi (The Morning) for US$39.2 million - the highest amount paid by a Hongkonger for an artwork.

Born in 1951 in Hong Kong with family roots in Guangdong's Chaozhou, Lau graduated from a university in Canada in 1974, and joined his family's business, which made ceiling fans.

Lau built his wealth on the Hong Kong stock market in the 1980s, but analysts have pointed out that the tycoon, with his younger brother Thomas Lau Luen-hung, was better known for corporate takeovers than stock investments.

Their reputation as corporate raiders was created when their investment unit, Evergo International Holdings, made a hostile bid for the Kadoorie family's Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels in 1987.

Evergo, which listed in 1983 as a ceiling fan manufacturer, was subsequently delisted in 1993 to become a subsidiary of Chinese Estates Holdings.

Apart from his relationship with Chan, Lau has another a long-time partner, Yvonne Lui, who gave birth to two children with the tycoon. 

He also has two other children from his previous marriage to Bo Wing-kam. They divorced in 1992.

Lau paid a record HK$1.4 million for a car number plate bearing the characters "1 LOVE U" during a Transport Department auction of personalised plates in 2006.

The plate was used on a Mercedes-Benz for his partners, according to local media reports.

The previous record for a diamond sale was held by the 24.78 carat Graff Pink, sold by Sotheby's for US$46.2 million in November 2010.

The blue diamond stone was found in South Africa's famed Cullinan mine in January 2014. The seller was New York-based jeweller Cora International, according to Sotheby's.

The distinctive blue colour in diamonds is attributed to trace amounts of the element boron in the crystal structure.

Royal jewels, coloured gemstones, and designer pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, and Harry Winston were among 410 lots that found new owners, bringing in US$139 million.

A fancy vivid purple-pink, pear-shaped diamond ring sold for 13.9 million francs, the second-highest lot of the night.

A 8.48 carat Burmese ruby and diamond ring that belonged to the late Maria-Jose, the last Queen of Italy, was stranded at 5.2 million francs, drawing gasps as it failed to meet its reserve price set by the seller.

A Cartier diamond and pearl tiara that survived Germany's sinking of the Lusitania cruise liner 100 years ago, along with its Canadian owner Marguerite Lady Allan, whose two daughters perished, went for US$800,000 in heated bidding, doubling the low end of its estimate.

A 15.20 carat fancy orange-pink diamond pendant owned by former James Bond actor Sean Connery fetched more than 4 million francs, tripling its estimate.

“Overall, it was an extraordinary evening,” Bennett said.