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The jewelry sale set for Tuesday at Christie’s in New York has the potential to be the auction house’s most profitable ever — that is, if the sale takes place.
The auction, dubbed “Rare Jewels and Gemstones The Eye of a Connoisseur,” doesn’t name a consignor, but attorney Helen Davis Chaitman of Phillips Nizer LLP said the 115-piece lot of jewelry and objets d’art belongs to her client, Ralph Esmerian.
Esmerian, a fourth-generation family jeweler and art collector, acquired Fred Leighton in 2006 in cooperation with lending partner Global Asset Based Finance Group, a division of Merrill Lynch. He has found himself in the middle of legal troubles since January. Merrill Lynch is seeking the $183.3 million it lent to Esmerian, who has paid $10 million on the loan. Esmerian fought in New York Supreme Court last month not to liquidate his “Special Collection,” so he could sell it privately for more. Esmerian had the collection appraised by an outside jewelry expert, who valued it at $89.15 million. The head of Christie’s jewelry department, Rahul Kadakia, estimated the collection is worth $35 million.
On Wednesday, Chaitman, attorney for Esmerian, applied for a stay to stop the auction in the appellate division. Justice Helen Freedman of the New York Supreme Court denied a previous request for a stay on April 4. Chaitman said they would have an answer from the court today.
The sale is to take place Tuesday evening in Christie’s’ 49th Street headquarters. François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe and head of jewelry for the auction house, and Kadakia are slated to be the auctioneers of the lot.
“We applied for a stay to stop the auction because we think it’s a disgrace,” Chaitman said.
Howard R. Hawkins Jr. of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, who is representing Merrill Lynch in the ongoing case, declined to comment. A representative from Christie’s declined to comment, as well.
An elaborate catalogue is circulating featuring mostly scaled-to-life pictures of jewelry ranging from a Cartier Mystery Clock that is anticipated to bring in $500,000 to $700,000, to the Empress Eugenie Brooch by François Kramer that is covered in rose-cut and old-mine-cut diamonds and is projected to bring in $4 million to $6 million. There is also an extremely rare 14.23-carat fancy intense pink diamond that is estimated to fetch $10 million to $15 million.
In court documents, Curiel said of Esmerian’s collection, “When I reflect upon all that I have seen during my career, both at auction and privately, and envision the next “Great Collection” — one that would surpass all records and make auction history — I think of Esmerian. His collection is unparalleled to any in the world for its provenance, breadth, size and rarity. Never before has one jewelry collection held such a great number of quintessential pieces from the 17th century, to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods into the 21st century.”
During a preview of the collection on Friday, Kadakia said Christie’s projects the sale to draw $25 million to $30 million, but that he thinks it could go higher.
“In times of economic flux, commodities are up,” he said. “Gold is up. Diamonds are up. Hard items like these are in demand.”
Kadakia said there is high demand for flawless diamonds above 10 carats and for jewelry from important designers from the past to contemporary.
“In these times, people will be inspired to build collections,” he said, projecting that European and Asian clients will be prevalent in the New York sales as the currency exchange is in their favor.
Many pieces are from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, which is extremely collectable and rare in the world of estate jewelry. Kadakia contends that such a sale wouldn’t flood the market because pieces are so limited anyhow.
In December, Esmerian hosted an Art Deco jewelry exhibit in Fred Leighton’s Madison Avenue flagship called “Timeless Glamour.”
“Art Deco is the zenith of great workmanship in jewelry when the world was coming out of its cocoon,” Esmerian said at the time. “It’s skilled work that we’ll never see again.”
The Deco period saw many great designers who are included in the sale, such as Fouquet, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. Everything in the collection was up for sale in the store. Now, much of it is scheduled to be sold through the Christie’s auction.