EXCLUSIVE: In conversation with Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s
When it comes to natural diamonds, Rahul Kadakia has seen the best of the best. As the international jewellery head at the famed auction house Christie’s, the most historical stones and designs have passed through his hands. Here, he picks the diamonds that have left a lasting impression over the last few decades.
In 2021, Rahul Kadakia will complete a quarter century at Christie’s. Born and raised in Mumbai, Kadakia, who comes from a family that has been in the jewellery business for the past four generations, oversees jewellery and online auctions and digital and private sales across the globe from the office in New York. His role is a gem lover’s dream–given the unforgettable diamonds that have come under the hammer at Christies auctions.
It’s been a career of many firsts, but his favourite memory is the first-ever themed sale, held in October 1997 to celebrate 50 years of India’s independence. “I had joined a year earlier and the directors approached me to put together this sale. Indian jewellery didn’t really have such a following all over the world. We created an Indian tent out of silk in our sale room and invited a sitar player to perform. It was a great success.”
Now, at the end of a busy summer, he tells me their July sales in New York, Geneva and Hong Kong have raised US$130 million. “With this profession, you never know what you are going to see,” he says about what fuels him. “On any given day, I could get a call to visit a bank vault and see the most amazing collection that hasn’t been seen for the past 50 years. In the course of our work, we get to be with the stones for a while and they become a part of you. So when you have to let them go, you are happy, but it’s also bittersweet.”
Here, Kadakia gives us a glimpse into the most iconic natural diamond stones and jewellery he has seen in his career.
The Stone: The Oppenheimer Blue Diamond Details: 14 carats, fancy vivid blue Date: May 2016, Geneva
“This is one of my favourites in terms of a coloured diamond and auction experience. It’s the finest blue diamond we have seen, and the provenance is so important. The Oppneheimers are the first family of diamonds, and so if this is the stone they chose to keep, then this is the one to own. I was the auctioneer at a packed room at the Four Seasons Hotel, and we sold it at almost US$60 million, making it the most expensive natural blue diamond ever sold at auction.”
The Piece: The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond Details: A 33.19-carat cut-cornered rectangular-cut diamond, flanked by tapered baguette-cut diamonds on either side, mounted in platinum. Date: November 2011, New York
“It was like the Crown Jewels of Hollywood had come on sale. Despite it being freezing cold, there were lines around the block. We usually sell a lot per minute, so this auction, with 80 lots, should have taken about an hour and a half. But it took four and a half hours. This ring was towards the end of the sale at a pre-estimate of US$2.5 million. The bidding was moving slowly, which surprised me. Only later did we realise that the person who finally bought it had fallen asleep. He had flown in from Asia and was jet-lagged, given it was nearly midnight in New York by that point. Luckily, he woke up just in time! We finally sold it for US$8.8 million.”
The Stone: The Pink Legacy Diamond Details: 18.96 carats, fancy vivid pink Date: November 2018, Geneva
“Also from the Oppenheimer family, this stone saw a long bidding war. When you buy a stone of this magnitude, legacy and provenance, you are not in a rush to let it go. It was finally sold to Harry Winston, who renamed it the Winston Pink Legacy. It is on display at the flagship in New York.”
The Stone: Le Grand Mazarin Details: Approximately 19.07 carats Date: November 2017, Geneva
“Named after Cardinal Mazarin, it was gifted to the crown of France in the 1600s. What makes this light pink Golconda diamond even more special is that it has passed through the hands of every ruler in France. The royals kept natural diamonds close to them, because they believed it enabled them to have more power, more luck. It also came from the famed Golconda mines, the first producers of natural diamonds. It sold for US $40 million.”
The Piece: A Diamond Riviere Details: 33 graduated old-cut diamonds Date: June 2019, New York
“The Maharajas & Mughals auction last year featured the collection of Sheikh Al Thani. I believe that a collection of this magnitude will probably never appear again given the numerous historical Indian jewels (all with great provenance), the international jewels commissioned for the Indian market, and the important Golconda natural diamonds, like the Arcot. It was 12 hours of non-stop bidding, a record I believe, and the sale made US$110 million in a single day. This diamond riviere necklace, from the Nizam of Hyderabad’s collection, has over 200 carats of Golconda diamonds. Just for perspective, the Golconda mines stopped producing diamonds over 400 years ago, so to have a necklace with these natural diamonds is magnificent.”
The Piece: The Poltimore Tiara Details: A graduated line of cushion-shaped and old-cut diamond clusters mounted in silver and gold (c 1870) Date: June 2016, London
“We’ve sold a lot of royal jewellery starting from 1766, when Christies was first founded, with the collection of Madame Du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, who owned Le Grand Mazarin, showing just how linked the world of iconic jewellery really is. In 2006, we hosted the historic sale of Princess Margaret’s jewellery. The Poltimore Tiara, which Princess Margaret wore to her wedding to photographer Lord Snowdon, was sold to an Asian client who bought it for his daughter’s wedding. That is our privilege, to pass on these traditions.”
“Our recent sales had some standout natural diamond pieces. We sold a 115-carat F diamond in New York, a 12 carat intense blue diamond in Hong Kong, and two diamonds that weighed over 100 carats in Geneva. These give us and the market confidence and hope. Diamonds are such a powerful, magical stone and they come in every colour under the sun. In some parts of the world, especially in India, it is considered powerful, lucky—a talisman.”
As we end our Zoom call, Kadakia tells me about their upcoming auction sales. He is confident that even with the uncertainties surrounding the world at large in particular, the value of a diamond will remain. Both literally as well as emotionally. “The enigma of diamonds has remained, and also practically, it is a portable source of value. I don’t know of any other asset class where you can put 100 million dollars in your pocket and walk away.”
Given Christie’s impeccable track record, we can’t wait to see the incredible treasures and pieces they unearth next.