Dull Showing for Diamond at Sotheby’s Auction

The auctioneer was waiting. The bid on a diamond dubbed by Sotheby’s as “extremely rare” stood at $4 million Tuesday morning. But that wasn’t high enough to meet its guaranteed minimum sale price.

“I’ll give you plenty of time,” Gary Schuler, the auctioneer told bidders. “All the time you need.”

He waited. And waited. Buyers and observers shifted uncomfortably as a prolonged hush permeated through the auction room.

Bidders attended in person, by phone and over the internet for Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction Tuesday. (The Ink/Vildana Hajric)

The wait became nearly unbearable. After what felt like too long, Schuler conceded defeat. Clearly disappointed, he pursed his lips.

“It did not sell,” Schuler, the director of Sotheby’s jewelry department, said in an interview after the auction. “Today was the day that we did not find a buyer.”

Sotheby’s had touted the stone as “the largest round diamond ever offered at auction” and estimated it would sell for between $4.2 million to $6.2 million at Tuesday’s auction on the Upper East Side. According to Sotheby’s auction rules, if bidding on an item fails to reach its reserve price – a confidential minimum agreed on with the seller – the auction house will not sell the piece.

Though the diamond weighs in at 110.92 carats – extremely large for a diamond – its brownish tint diminishes its value, potentially complicating its ability to sell.

Diamonds come in a range of colors and are graded on a scale from D to Z. Top diamonds, categorized as D, E or F, look colorless against a white background. The Sotheby’s catalogue said the sale diamond was graded as an L, which means it has a noticeable trace of color.

“That color is not what people are looking for. Definitely not,” said Kelly Kaneko, 35, a gemologist who attended the auction with her two dogs, London, a Yorkipoo, and Leon, a mixed breed. “The brown color is not a popular color,” she added. Diamond trends change, she said, and the brownish tint could become more popular in the future.

Scott Friedman, a gemologist and founder of Rare Concept, a diamond and estate jewelry dealer, echoed that sentiment. “In my opinion, the color and clarity grade of this stone does not help its value and may actually lower it,” said Friedman in an email. He added, “If this stone was a D color (the best), its estimate would be around $15 to $20 million dollars.”

What made the diamond significant, experts said, was its size. “Diamonds weighing over 100 carats are exceptional rarities,” said Russell Shor, a senior industry analyst at the Gemological Institute of America. “In all of history, out of the many billions of diamonds that have been mined, only a few hundred diamonds of that weight have been found and cut.”

Sotheby’s would not disclose the diamond’s origin, but the size could have been problematic for buyers. “The diamond is comparable to a doorknob,” said Ed Kordmany, a gem appraiser at the International Gemological Institute, in an interview. “It’s a functionality problem. You can’t put that on your finger.”

Bidding on the diamond had started at $3 million, jumping in increments of $100,000. When the bid reached $4 million, Schuler, the auctioneer, urged a phone buyer to “let that calculator roll,” hoping to extract a higher bid.

A long pause followed. No one in the room said a word. “At $4 million,” Schuler said. “Did the batteries go dead?”

Schuler pushed again. “It’s merely $100,000 more,” he said, working to push the bid higher. When the room remained silent, he finally brought down the gavel.

Sotheby’s tried to take a positive view of the stalled sale. “It’s nice to see things sell really high, but I think it’s okay if things settle at the low,” said Frank Everett, a senior vice president at the auction house.

The event was part of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction, which offered hundreds of pieces of jewelry on Tuesday. In a cavernous room that carried echoes of hushed whispers throughout the auction, about two dozen phone bidders joined around fifty bidders and viewers attending in person as well as some watching and bidding online.

Exorbitant amounts of money were exchanged casually in a matter of seconds, including $68,000 for a Cartier coral diamond pin, which came with a warning: the item couldn’t be shipped internationally “due to endangered species materials.” Unfazed by the restriction, a bidder offered $65,000, but Schuler pushed to get the bid to $68,000. “It’s only $3,000 more, and it’s come so far,” he said. He achieved his goal.

A blue diamond ring, the last piece up during the morning session, fetched $13.2 million before fees and commissions, eliciting claps from the audience. With fees, the total came to $15.1 million.

Sotheby’s had estimated that the ring would sell for at least $12 million. At last, Schuler seemed happy, calling it a “grand finale.”