It’s rare for unique, historical jewels to come up for sale. Some say it may be once-in-a-lifetime. The Beau Sancy is a unique diamond with a rich history, which went under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction last year, making it the oldest diamond to have ever done so.
The Beau Sancy is a “modified pear double rose-cut diamond” with a weight of 34.98 carats. It was originally the smaller of a pair of diamonds, with the larger diamond being the Sancy and weighing 55.132 carats. The Beau Sancy is quite different from the Sancy in that while they are both shaped and cut the same, this diamond has “smaller and more numerous facets which are centered on an eight-point star”.
The diamonds were brought from India to France by Nicolas de Harlay, Lord of Sancy, thus the names of the diamonds. In 1604, the pair of diamonds were separated when James I of England bought the Sancy to wear in his hat. Queen Marie (formerly Marie de Medici, Europe’s richest heiress) had wanted to buy the Sancy, so in her fury she made her husband buy the Beau Sancy and she added it to her private collection. In fact, she wore it on top of her pearl and diamond coronation crown in 1610.
Eventually Queen Marie was forced to flee France due to quarrels with her son, King Louis XIII. She was protected for a while by her cousin, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia of Spain and Portugal. But when the Infanta died, Queen Marie was still not in good standing with her family. She pledged her jewels to pawn brokers, and when she died in 1642, everything that was left was sold to pay off expenses. Prince Frederick Henry of Orange bought the diamond. He and his wife were “monarchs in all but name” and when they arranged their son William’s marriage to Mary Stuart, the Princess Royal of England, Prince Frederick Henry gave Mary the Beau Sancy, a fitting choice not only because of his family’s status, but also because Mary was the granddaughter of Queen Marie.
Mary gave birth in 1650 to a son, William, one week after her husband died. In 1659, after the restoration of the English monarchy, Princess Mary pawned the Beau Sancy to help pay for her brother Charles to take his place as king of England. After Mary died of the plague in 1661, her son’s grandmother and guardian bought back the diamond. In 1677, William married his cousin Mary and gave her the Beau Sancy as a wedding gift. The next owner was Frederick III, who inherited it due to William and Mary having no children of their own. Frederick schemed and crowned himself King of Prussia, and had the diamond set in his crown, as it was the most important stone in the Prussian Crown Jewels. Queen Elizabeth Christian then had it set in a “bouquet jewel with other diamonds” and it stayed set that way until 1822 when it started being worn as a “pendant to a necklace of twenty-two rose-cut diamonds”. It was later attached to a different necklace, then was simply a pendant again, then part of Queen Augusta’s stomacher. The Beau Sancy was worn to all of the fanciest of occasions – royal weddings, state visits, balls, etc.
In Helsinki in 1972, the Beau Sancy and the Sancy were reunited after being apart for 370 years, when they were put on display by Finnish historian of diamond cutting Herbert Tillander. Mr. Tillander called the Beau Sancy “an incredible masterpiece of precision and artistic inventiveness”.
The Beau Sancy was put up for auction in Geneva, Switzerland on May 15, 2012, by the House of Prussia and dubbed “one of the most important historical diamonds to ever come to auction”. It was estimated to bring between $1,980,055 and $3,906,595 USD, but an anonymous buyer splashed out $9,678,187 USD for the diamond. Up until that point, the diamond had only had royal owners, but with this anonymous buyer, that may well have changed. Sophie Dufresne, a Sotheby’s employee, said, “It is a very moving object. It is not just its perfect shape, but the impressive history that goes with it. There’s a kind of energy that radiates from it.” The chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, Philipp Herzog von Wuerttenberg, said “You are buying an historic work of art. You are not buying a diamond.” The larger Sancy diamond is now on display in Paris, at the Louvre.
Here’s a video on the sale of the Beau Sancy:
Photo credits: Sothebys, AP, AFP, Getty, flickr
Sources: Sotheby’s, Guardian