LONDON — Bidders from around the world scrambled for pieces of royal history Tuesday as Princess Margaret's jewels went under the hammer at Christie's in St. James'.
But the overall total in the first day of the two-day sale failed to break records, hitting less than 9.6 million pounds, or $17.6 million at current exchange. This was far below the 31 million pounds brought in overall at the sale of the Duchess of Windsor's jewels in Geneva in 1987.
And the highest bid wasn't even for a piece of jewelry, but for a Fabergé clock that went for just more than 1.2 million pounds, or $2.2 million. The much-touted Paltimore tiara, which the princess wore on the day of her marriage to Tony Armstrong-Jones, was the last lot and went for 926,400 pounds, or $1.7 million.
Other lots did better. A pearl and ruby necklace that Margaret wore as a two-year-old started at 500 pounds, or $915, and sold for 23,000 pounds, or $42,000, while a miniscule ruby bar brooch started at 400 pounds, or $732, and sold for 24,000 pounds, or $44,000.
The aquamarine and diamond brooch the princess wore for her first public appearance at Clarence House with newborn son David Linley carried an estimate of 3,500 pounds, or $6,400 — and sold for 55,000 pounds, or $101,000.
"It is unbelievable that the public can buy into this heritage," said one London-based bidder who blew his 100,000-pound, or $183,000, budget in the first hour — on the Art Deco sapphire and diamond bow brooch and the striped enamel tiger bangle and ring, thought to have been a gift to Margaret from Peter Sellers.
Colin Tennant, an old friend of Princess Margaret's, wasn't thinking about the jewels as an investment, however.
"It's the end of an era, and it's what they call closure," he said, minutes before the auction began. "This moment makes me think of that line from 'The Tempest': 'This insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind.'"
Tuesday's sale featured jewelry and Princess Margaret's collection of Fabergé. Today Christie's will auction furniture, paintings and works of art from the princess' collection.The princess' children and heirs, Lord Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto, are selling a treasure trove of their mother's belongings in order to pay off the 40 percent inheritance tax on the estate, which has been estimated at 7.9 million pounds, or $14.5 million.
Neither Linley nor Chatto was present at the sale Tuesday, which took place in the three first-floor sales rooms at Christie's. However, both siblings had representatives watching the auction.
Royal jewelry expert Leslie Field, who had spent months writing the catalogue and gathering pictures of the princess wearing the jewelry, said she was pleased at the bidders' enthusiasm. "What a wonderful tribute to the princess' memory," said Field.
The audience was a mix of young and old, the ultracoiffed and the scruffy. It included the princess' old friends designer Jasper Conran, Ned Ryan, Ben Holland-Martin and Jane Stevens, a former lady-in-waiting.
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