HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - A rare, flawless blue diamond that was once part of the legendary De Beers Millennium Collection sold for $6.4 million at auction, exceeding the top price estimate but falling short of the 2009 record.
The 5.16 carat pear-shaped diamond was the first gem of its kind to appear in an auction from the collection that De Beers, the world's largest diamond producer, presented in 2000 to celebrate the millennium.
Auctioneers Sotheby's had priced the diamond at between $4.6 million and $5.8 million and it was sold in Hong Kong to London-based gem merchant Alisa Moussaieff who said she was satisfied with the price.
"It's an individual thing and people have got to like it and people have got to see the value in it, but we do see the value and I hope our clients will see the value as well," she said.
The De Beers Millennium Collection comprised 12 rare gems and took decades to assemble. Blue diamonds are among the rarest of all gems and owe their natural color to the presence of the chemical element boron during the stone's formation.
The diamond was the star lot of a gem sale by Sotheby's, which said it had had deliberately kept prices conservative to attract bidding in a still fragile economy.
"I think what people are actually looking for are rare objects of high quality that are hard to find on the market," said Patti Wong, Sotheby's Asia Director.
"So when we assembled the sale we were very mindful that the economy out there may not have fully recovered so we were very conservative with our estimates and clients responded very well to that and competed accordingly."
The overall auction raised $52.4 million, a figure Sotheby's said was the highest total ever for a sale of this category.
The auction's location probably helped: China is one of the world's largest and fastest growing diamond markets, with jewelers forecasting it will be the next big purchaser of rare jewels as its economy surges while the rest of the world still grapples with the global financial meltdown.
In May 2009, a 7.03 carat cushion-shaped flawless blue diamond set the world record price per carat for any gemstone at a Sotheby's Geneva auction when it was bought by a Hong Kong collector for $9.48 million dollars.
Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by David Fox