Even a bid above $2.2 million a carat gave the Shirley Temple Blue’s seller the blues.(Photo: Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s much-anticipated April 19 main event lasted less than a minute before the hammer went down on an anti-climactic $22 million. The auctioneer later annulled the sale, indicating that the stone was “withdrawn, passed or unsold.” Something in the range of $25 million to $35 million had been expected for the Shirley Temple Blue diamond, a 9.54-carat, potentially internally flawless, cushion-cut fancy stone once owned by the child phenom.

Still, the gem would have brought considerably more than the $7,210 paid by Temple’s dad in 1940.

The failure comes one day before another New York event, where Christie’s had been hoping to get $12 million to $15 million for the 15.99-carat Jubilee ruby, as well as up to $12 million for a 10.07-carat purple-pink diamond. No doubt watching closely, the trade will be wondering if the Sotheby’s disappointment proves to be a bellwether of relative stinginess among the super-rich.

Next month the two rivals peddle their opulence in Geneva. Sotheby’s set a hopeful $28-million to $38-million target for the 15.38-carat Unique Pink diamond, while Christie’s talked of up to $45 million for the 14.62-carat Oppenheimer Blue.

Rejection of a $22-million offer might suggest extraordinary expectations. But some diamonds have brought extraordinary prices recently.

Earlier this month Sotheby’s unloaded the De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 in Hong Kong for $31.8 million, a record price for Asia. In November Christie’s auctioned the 16.08-carat Sweet Josephine for $28.5 million. The following day the same buyer—a father rather more extravagant than Temple’s—paid Sotheby’s “a new record price for any gemstone and per carat” for the $48.4-million Blue Moon of Josephine.

“Even though there may be a general economic malaise, a lot of people are making a lot of money and are very cash-rich,” David Bennett told Rapaport Magazine. As chairperson of Sotheby’s jewelry division, he conducted the Blue Moon auction and several other high-profile sales.

“Fine gemstones have always been something that people consider having in their portfolio of investments,” he added. “If they are going to buy something, they want to buy the rarest, the best.”

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