Archaeologists have shown that humans have been creating and wearing jewelry for thousands of years. From simple shell necklaces to bejewelled crowns and bracelets, people have a long history of covering themselves with expensive and expressive art and decorations. When it comes to expensive jewelry, most of us envision royalty or celebrities covered in an array of silver, gold and gemstones. Most of the jewelry market is directed at women because, let’s face it, the majority of guys outside of movie and sports stars, can’t pull off more than cufflinks, a watch and a wedding band.
Nevertheless, jewelry holds different meanings for different people. It can be a symbol of love, like an engagement ring. It can be a symbol of status, like a Cartier diamond necklace. It can also be art, something which is impractical to wear and better used on display to show the craftsmanship and design quality. By combining these different meanings and high demand with the rarity of certain materials used in creating jewelry it is easy to understand why prices can get so high.
The following looks at 20 of the most expensive pieces of jewelry ever made. There’s a little of everything here from necklaces and brooches to tiaras and watches. Of course, the list is dominated by rings from the most elite jewelry houses and designers around the world. As you’d expect, diamonds are the gemstone of choice but there is even a twist as color plays a huge role in the value of the diamonds in question. You’ll see that there isn’t a piece of jewelry here that you could find at your local store. No, most of us will just have to stick to our ‘regular’ gold and diamonds while the super-rich and wealthy collectors hunt down the rarest multi-million dollar creations which pop up from time to time on the auction market.
20 The Vivid Pink by Graff - $11.8 Million
As you’ll see from this list, pink diamonds are very valuable. No one is certain why pink diamonds are pink. Every other color has some definitive explanation but scientists can only hypothesize that some sort of seismic shock is responsible for changing the molecular structure of these very rare gemstones. Therefore, it makes sense that we should come across the Vivid Pink Graff diamond early on. The centerpiece of this jewelry is the cushion-shaped 5 carat pink diamond. The diamond is of such high quality that it is given the classification of fancy vivid. On each side, as a complementary touch, you can find a ‘regular’ shield-shaped diamond all mounted in platinum and 18k rose gold.
19 Wallis Simpson Panther Bracelet - $12.4 Million
Wallis Simpson is probably best known for her relationship with Edward VIII resulting in his abdication of the British throne in the 1930s. Over her life, Simpson collected many gifts from Edward, some of which ended up on the auction block in 2010. One of the items which caught a great deal of attention (and a hefty winning bid) was a Cartier created bracelet in the form of a panther. In comparison with the other items listed in this article, this is definitely one of the more unconventional jewelry pieces. The panther’s body is composed of diamonds and onyx. Its eyes stand out thanks to the use of two specially cut emeralds.
18 Emerald and Diamond Tiara - $12.7 Million
This emerald and diamond tiara was created around 1900 and was in the possession of Princess Katharina Henckel von Donnersmarck for much of its life. The crown was commissioned by the princess’s husband and is notable for the emeralds used in its design. Specifically, what makes the tiara stand out from others are the 11 rare Columbian pear-shaped emeralds which ring the top of the piece. In weight alone, the emeralds are said to come in at 500 carats. In addition to silver, gold and numerous ‘smaller’ diamonds, there are 11 large cushion-shaped diamonds seated in the body of the tiara itself.
17 Heart of the Kingdom Ruby Necklace - $14 Million
The House of Garrard is the oldest jewelry house in the world and, up until 2007, was the Crown Jeweller who was responsible for maintaining the British Crown Jewels. With a background like that you know that whatever they make is of the highest quality and, likely, price. The Heart of the Kingdom ruby necklace is one such famous piece created by Garrard. The necklace, as you’d expect, has a large 40.63 carat Burmese ruby as its center piece. Complementing the red gemstone is a necklace with 155 carats of diamonds. Not good enough? This jewelry can reportedly be turned into a tiara if you’re feeling more like a princess than an heiress.
16 The Bvlgari Blue - $15.7 Million
This is a rather unconventional looking diamond ring which utilized two different colored diamonds. The heart of the design is composed of a 10.95 carat triangular cut fancy-vivid blue diamond and a 9.87 carat triangular cut diamond. The diamonds are mounted onto a gold band which has baguette diamonds embedded. Created in the early 1970s, the ring was initially purchased for $1 million as a gift for the wife of a European collector. When the ring came up for sale again in 2010, experts believed it would fetch around $12 million.
15 Chopard Blue Diamond Ring - $16.26 Million
Looking for an engagement ring and have several spare millions sitting around? Look no further than the Chopard Blue Diamond ring. Chopard is an internationally acclaimed company known for their high quality time-pieces and jewelry. Blue diamonds are considered one of the rarest forms of the gem stone. They are found near boron deposits, an element which helps the diamond get its distinct color. In addition to the oval cut diamond, Chopard has added triangular cut diamonds to the sides and mounted it on an 18-carat white gold band which is, itself, paved in more diamonds.
14 The Graff Vivid Yellow – $16.3 Million
English jeweller Laurence Graff and his company, Graff Diamonds, are giants in the world of jewelry. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we come across another piece of jewellery by Graff. In this instance, the Graff Vivid Yellow is a 100 carat yellow diamond mounted in gold with diamonds on the band. The massive stone fetched a world record for yellow diamonds when it went up for auction at Sotheby’s Geneva. It had originally been a 190 carat rough diamond which Graff purchased in South Africa. In total, it took nine months of cutting to get the diamond to the point we see it today.
13 Heart of the Ocean Necklace - $17 Million
Sticking with the blue diamond theme, this next piece is a perfect example of life imitating art. In 1997 Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet went on a boat ride that didn’t turn out too well. The Titanic sank and Celine Dion sang a song that has become associated with the ship and film. One of the iconic props from the film was a necklace known as the Coeur de la Mer which Kate Winslet’s character deemed more important to save than the life of DiCaprio’s character who she let sink beneath the waves – just kidding. In all seriousness, after the film, famed jeweller Harry Winston created a replica of the necklace using real jewels. At the ‘heart’ of the piece is a 15-carat blue diamond. Gloria Stewart, the actress who played the elderly ‘Rose’ in the film, wore the creation to the Oscars.
12 The Blue Belle of Asia - $17.3 Million
Sold at Christie’s Geneva in 2014, the Blue Belle of Asia is the fourth largest faceted sapphire in history. The cushion shaped sapphire weighs in at a little over 392.5 carats and set a world record for sapphire price. However, don’t get too upset, you get more for your $17.3 million than just a massive gem stone. In addition to the Ceylon sapphire, the piece includes a diamond covered gold neckchain and diamond covered tassels which extend downward from the sapphire. Just think of it as a really sparkly and expensive Bolo tie.
11 1912 Cartier Diamond Brooch - $17.6 Million
Officially known as “a Belle Epoque Diamond Devant-De-Corsage Brooch by Cartier,” we’ll stick with the shorter and simpler title for now. This creation, as you’d expect from the title is composed of a lot of high quality diamonds. It was created at the Henri Picq workshop in Paris in 1912. The main features of this brooch are three large stones. The largest is a pear-shaped diamond weighing in at just over 34 carats. This is complemented by an oval-shaped diamond of 23.55 carats and a smaller marquise-shaped diamond of 6.51 carats.
10 The Perfect Pink Diamond - $23.2 Million
According to experts, fewer than 10% of pink diamonds weigh more than 0.20 carats. Additionally, it is very rare for a pink diamond to have a pure color without any additional orange or grey tones. That helps explain why a bidder at Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong was willing to pay $23.2 million for a 14.23 carat diamond known simply as the Perfect Pink. In terms of size and color purity, the Perfect Pink lives up to its name and holds the record for the most expensive piece of jewelry sold at auction in Asia.
9 The Winston Blue - $23.8 Million
At 13.22 carats, this piece was actually marketed and sold as an engagement ring. Before 2014, only a handful of blue diamonds weighing between 10 and 12 carats had ever been sold at auction. So, when this 13+ carat monster came across the auction block at Christie’s in Geneva, it was believed it would bring in at least $21 million. The background of the diamond is not well known, although most experts agree that the diamond likely came from South Africa where most of the world’s blue diamonds originate.
8 Chopard 201-Carat Watch - $25 Million
Yes, this is technically a watch but one look at this Chopard creation and you’ll understand why we placed it in an article about jewelry. Known for their luxury watches, Chopard combines their expertise with time-pieces and their other specialty – jewelry – to create this interesting piece. In total, there are 874 diamonds of various size with the largest coming in at 15 carats. Adding that little extra wow factor is the mechanism which makes the largest three diamonds move apart, revealing the watch underneath. Needless to say, it’s unlikely the buyer purchased this jewelry for the high quality time-piece buried beneath the mountain of diamonds.
7 The Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite Necklace - $27.4 million
Another Cartier piece, the Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite necklace has been in the possession of some famous people over the years. Some of the more notable wearers included Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and Princess Nina Mdivina, who, it is rumored, hid the necklace under her deathbed in an attempt to keep it out of the hands of debt collectors. The necklace itself is composed of 27 emerald green jadeite beads. The finishing touch is provided by a ruby, diamond, platinum and gold clasp to secure the necklace around the wearer’s neck.
6 The Diamond Bikini - $30 Million
It’s not made of fabric, it doesn’t leave much to the imagination and you probably wouldn’t wear this jewelry into the water. Of course, we are talking about the $30 million diamond bikini. Designed by Susan Rosen, this ‘bikini’ is made up of 150 carats worth of diamonds which are set in platinum. Even by bikini standards, it’s very skimpy and when Sports Illustrated model Molly Sims wore the creation in 2006, it definitely turned a lot of heads. Sims was reportedly shocked when she saw what she had to wear – a little uncomfortable with the value of the bikini and the fact it didn’t really cover much of anything.
5 The Zoe Diamond - $32.6 Million
In 2014 the collection of Rachel Mellon, wife of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, came up for auction at Sotheby’s. The pinnacle of the collection, and most sought after by potential buyers, was the Zoe diamond. This particular stone was classified as a 9.75 carat fancy vivid blue diamond. Originally believed capable of fetching around $15 million, the Zoe diamond shocked everyone when the winning bid came in at $32.6 million. This makes the Zoe diamond not only the most expensive blue diamond in the world, but also the most expensive diamond in terms of price-per-carat ($3.3 million).
4 The Graff Pink - $46.2 Million
In 2010, auctioneers at Sotheby’s expected this particular ring to do well when it went up for sale. They had no idea it would fetch well over $40 million, making it one of the most expensive pieces of jewelry ever. This particular ring, which features a 24.78 carat pink diamond was at one time owned by famed jeweller Harry Winston. In addition to being a very rare color, this particular diamond was considered one of the greatest ever discovered. In 2010, diamond dealer Laurence Graff purchased what is now known as the Graff Pink for well above the estimated $27-38 million price-tag.
3 L’Incomparable Diamond Necklace - $55 Million
The Bronze-medal position on our list of most expensive jewelry holds a couple of records. Created by the famed Mouawad firm, the L’Incomparable Diamond Necklace is the most valuable necklace in the world and features the world’s largest internally flawless diamond, the 407.48-carat Incomparable diamond. Complementing the massive yellow diamond are 230 carats worth of smaller diamonds. What’s more amazing about this piece is that it came to be thanks to a little girl who discovered a rough 890 carat diamond in a rubble pile in Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1980s. After being sold among numerous dealers and traders, the diamond underwent four years of studying and cutting to reach the point it is at today.
2 Pink Star Diamond Ring - $72 Million*
Until November 2013, the Graff Pink held the record for most expensive diamond ring ever sold at auction. Then the Pink Star Diamond came along. Put on the block at Sotheby’s, the massive oval shaped diamond weighed in at 59.6 carats. The diamond was cut from a 132.5 carat rough diamond mined by DeBeers in Africa. Experts who witnessed the sale of the diamond said its size and quality surpasses anything known to exist in private and royal collections around the world. So why the asterisk beside the price? Some people may list this piece at $83 million – the price it sold for at auction. The problem is that not too long after Isaac Wolf won the auction, he defaulted and the ring returned to Sotheby’s where it was revalued at the current $72 million.
1 Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond - $80 Million
Coming in at #1 in price and #1 in controversy is the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond. This piece started out its life as a 35.56-carat deep blue diamond which found its way into both the Austrian and Bavarian Crown Jewels. In 2008, London jeweller Laurence Graff bought the stone for $23.4 million and immediately went about altering it. In a move that infuriated other jewellers, Graff removed nearly 4.5 carats from the blue diamond which actually ended up enhancing its clarity and value. In 2011, it was reported that Graff has sold the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond to a member of the Qatari royal family for $80 million.