Record Breaking Auctions

Remarkable record-breaking prices keep happening with rarity being a coveted trait. We bring you the latest from the world’s biggest auction houses.

The Blue Moon

A new world record was set at Sotheby’s in November 2015, as a 12.03-carat blue diamond was sold for $48 million—an auction record for any diamond, of any colour. The striking blue diamond, dubbed ‘The Blue Moon’, was bought by Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau for his daughter, and he renamed the piece ‘Blue Moon of Josephine’ after her. The bidding was intense and competitive, with two telephone bidders locked in a bidding war for eight minutes before the hammer went down, with the precious jewel far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $35 million. Sotheby’s spokesman David Bennett described the diamond as ‘magical’, and enthused: ‘I’ve never seen a more beautiful stone. The shape, the colour, the purity, it’s magical and everybody, I think, who put it on their finger thought so.’

See also: Van Cleef & Arpels: Once Upon a Time in Paris


Sotheby’s ‘Contemporary Art Evening Auction’ in New York, November 2015, saw an exceptional Cy Twomly blackboard painting, Untitled (New York City) sell for $70.5 million. The painting set not only a record for the artist at auction, but was also the most expensive work sold at Sotheby’s worldwide in 2015. The painting has been in private collection for the past quarter century, prior to which it belonged to two esteemed collections: the Saatchi Collection in London and the Collection of Fred Mueller.

Smashing record

With many auction records smashed in 2015, it was appropriate that one auction at Bonham’s actually featured a smashed guitar. Two Rickenbacker guitars, as played by Pete Townshend, were auctioned at Bonham’s, London in December 2015. Well-known for his on-stage guitar smashing, one of the guitars offered survived his wrath: ‘In the first years of work with The Who in 1964 and 1965 I smashed about seven Rickenbackers,’ said Townshend. The lot was made up of two similar Rickenbackers, one signed by Townshend; the other smashed into pieces and mounted on a board. These two guitars were played during The Who’s 25th anniversary tour in 1989, and were sold for £52,500.

Lichenstein’s Nurse

Lichtenstein is renowned for his contribution to the Pop Art movement, and the sale of Nurse at Christie’s in New York broke a record for the artist, being the highest price his work has achieved to date. The painting, unseen on the market for 20 years, sold for $95 million in November 2015. Laura Paulson, Chairman and International Director for Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, said of the picture: ‘Its magisterial scale and colours combined with Lichenstein’s complete command of its composition places Nurse as one of the most compelling, intriguing and powerful Pop Art masterpieces of all time.’

Rare Cars

In December 2015, RM Sotheby’s in New York accelerated the collector’s love of the classic automobile with its Rare Car auction. The traffic stopping lot was the Ferrari 290 MM by design house Scaglietti, which sold for $28 million—making it the most expensive car sold in 2015, despite falling short of its high-end estimate. The car was built in 1956 for driver Juan Manuel Fangio, and went on to have an illustrious racing life with F1 champion Phil Hill. Whilst the majority of car auctions attract the more senior bidder, the crowd at Sotheby’s included a younger range of car enthusiasts. Paul Wallman, a House Specialist for Sotheby’s, explained that: ‘Younger buyers are migrating into classic cars who are attracted to the glamour and sex appeal. The new buyers appreciate cars up until the 1980s, because the cars of today are cold and lack charisma and personality. It’s becoming more like a scene, like Art Basel.’

Only Watch

A Patek Philippe watch donated to the Only Watch auction, held by Philips in Geneva, November 2015, sold for a record-breaking $7.3 million—the highest price for any wristwatch ever sold at auction. The pre-sale estimate for the watch was a comparatively modest $700-900,000. A selection of the world’s top brands donated a total of 44 unique watches, enabling the auction itself to raise $11 million—the proceeds of which will go entirely to research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The money accrued from the Patek Philippe watch, Ref. 5016A-010, contributed over half to the overall total. Another timepiece by Patek Philippe, the Henry Graves Supercomplication, still holds the title of most expensive watch ever sold at auction at $24 million.

Can’t buy me love

A guitar stolen from the late John Lennon in the 1960s has sold for $2.4 million at Julien’s ‘Icons and Idols’ auction in California, November 2015. The 1962 J-160E Gibson acoustic guitar was used by Lennon on recordings of a number of Beatles songs, including ‘Love Me Do’, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘PS I Love You’, and was previously ‘lost’ for over 50 years. The guitar had been in the possession of a novice musician who was unaware the guitar had been stolen from the renowned Beatle several years earlier. Other Beatles highlights from this collection included a pair of Lennon’s trademark ‘granny’ glasses.

Iron Lady

A quarter of a century after leaving Downing Street, the belongings of the only woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, were sold at a Christie’s auction in London, in an online-only sale, in December 2015. The unique collection gave an insight into the longest serving prime minister’s personal and political life, and included her notorious power suits. The Iron Lady’s wedding dress was also on sale amongst the 400 lots, which sold for £25,000. A number of the items on sale far surpassed their pre-sale estimates, with the top lot being a Kaiser bisque porcelain model of an American bald eagle, presented to Mrs. Thatcher by Ronald Regan on 13 June 1984. The lot’s pre-sale estimate of £5,000-8,000 realized £266,500 on the day. Another highlight was Mrs Thatcher’s Prime Ministerial red morocco dispatch box, 1980-90, which sold for £242,500 against an estimate of £5,000.

‘The market’s response to these historic sales, both the online-only sale and the traditional auction, was remarkable, with the overall results for the Mrs Thatcher collection far exceeding pre-sale expectations,’ commented Adrian Hume-Sayer, Head of Sale at Christie’s. ‘Clients from all over the world seized this once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire items which gave insights into both the public and private life of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, who was a political giant on the world stage’. 100 percent of the lots were sold in both auctions.

China’s treasures

A collection spanning over 1,000 years of production from Tang through to the Ming and Qing dynasties, will go on sale at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, in April 2016. The auction, comprised of 100 object, is thought to be one of the finest collections of Chinese porcelain ever assembled and has a combined estimate of more than £20 million. Nicolas Chow, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s, Asia, stresses the difficulty in acquiring pieces from the Ming and Quing periods: ‘It is very unusual in the marketplace for a group like this to come up.’ A rare Chenghua blue and white ‘palace’ bowl has a pre-sale estimate of £4-6 million, and is so rare that many of the world’s greatest collections lack an example of 15th century porcelain. Another rarity in the collection is the holy water vessel, which was inspired by a similar object used by Tibetan Buddhists. The vessel is estimated to sell for £3-4 million, and is thought to have only two companion pieces in the world.

Read more: Sting and Trudie Styler’s Collection up for sale

Helmut Newton Photography: Pages From the Glossies

Unique in its broad international coverage of both arts and cultural events, Arts & Collections covers fine art from antiquity to modern times, auction records, a special sale preview by Sotheby’s, as well as market trends that inform collectors of the world’s finest items.

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