The Hope Spinel sold recently for much more than expected. The 50.13 carat stone sold for a massive $1.5 million at a Bonham’s auction on the 24th September. For a spinel diamond this is a record and doubles the price per carat for a spinel set in 2013 at $16,000 per carat.
The Hope Spinel was a famous part of the Henry Philip Hope’s gem collection, previously sold in 1917 and is set in a 19th century gold and silver brooch flanked by smaller diamonds. This is the first time it has been available for auction for 98 years.
Jean Ghika, the director of jewellery for the UK and Europe for Bonhams said, “We are delighted with the price it has made. It was an exceptional gemstone with a priceless provenance. These pieces just don’t come to the open market often, and when they do, they are hotly contested. Bonhams is honored to have been chosen to handle the sale of such a unique and magnificent gem.”
Spinels have very similar refractive qualities to diamonds and garnets, according to the Gemological Institute of America, and they’re a fairly common occurrence in nature. Forbes notes that they are often mistaken for rubies.
Barber said the Hope Spinel’s “exceptional transparency, flawless cut, beautiful color and large size” classify the stone as an “exceptional treasure of nature.”
Henry Philip Hope, a rich and power merchant banker was the owner of the famous Hope Blue Diamond as well as several hundred other valuable gemstones. Moving to the UK from Amsterdam at the end of the 18th Century and potentially liable for death duties Hope gifted much of his collection to a nephew but this did not stop the 700 strong collection becoming the subject of a protracted legal battle.
As explained by Emily Barber, UK Jewellery Department Director at Bonhams auction house who sold the magnificent gemstone on September 24 as part of its London Fine Jewellery sale, explained: “Henry Philip Hope died in 1839 leaving a will but the collection of gems wasn’t mentioned anywhere – he was trying to avoid death duties and hoped it might be kept together.
“He didn’t have any children but he had three nephews and he secretly gifted the collection to one of them during his lifetime.
“After his death, two of his nephews believed they had been gifted the collection which caused ten years of very bitter and very public wrangling over who would inherit the collection.
“Eventually it was decided that the younger nephew Alexander Beresford-Hope would inherit the bulk of the collection. But his elder brother, Henry Thomas Hope, would retain eight of the most valuable stones, including the Hope Blue Diamond and the Hope Spinel.”
The jewels were inherited by his widow, Anne Adele On Henry Thomas’s death and their only daughter, married to a profligate and notorious gambler, the 6th Duke of Newcastle bequeathed the Hope Spinel to her second grandson, Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton, on condition he assume the Hope surname.
Emily Barber said: “He only really had a lifetime interest and would have needed a court order to sell it. But he was a gambler too and by the mid-1890s, Lord Francis Hope, as he was then known, was declared bankrupt, only nine years after receiving his colossal inheritance.”
“He went to court asking to sell some of the collection and he privately sold the Hope Blue Diamond to a dealer in 1901. That now resides in the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington.
“By 1917, all that remained of the Hope collections were finally dispersed at Christies and the Hope spinel was lot 35 in the sale of ‘The Hope Heirlooms’.
“The spinel was bought by a dealer - it went for £1,060, about £80,000 in today’s money – and it next turned up in the collection of Lady Mount Stephen, who was married to a Canadian philanthropist living in the UK.
“She was a close friend of Queen Mary – the Mount Stephens were very well connected to the British royal family – and gifted a diamond necklace to Queen Mary that Princess Margaret eventually wore on her wedding day.
“When her husband’s great niece was presented at court in the 1920s, she loaned her the Hope Spinel to wear. When Lady Mount Stephen died in 1933, the spinel went to her niece-by-marriage, Elsie Reford, who along with her husband, amassed one of the most important collections of art in Canada. The spinel was gifted to Elsie Refords’ granddaughter, who was also Lady Mount Stephen’s god daughter.
“It not only had the amazing provenance but it’s also an exceptional gemstone in its own right. It’s 50 carats and the actual stone is about two and half centimetres in diameter.
“We’ve had this spinel assessed by SSEF, a premier gemmological laboratory in Switzerland who have confirmed it is from these ancient mines and due to its exceptional transparency, flawless cut, beautiful colour and large size, it’s classed as an exceptional treasure of nature.
“Very large historical specimens were found in the ancient Kuh-i-Lal mines, in Tajikistan. These include the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby both in the Crown Jewels. Both are called rubies when in fact they are spinels.
“The mines are geographically difficult to get to and politically in the 20th century weren’t being used. That makes spinels like these exceptionally rare even without the provenance of the Hope Spinel. It’s a fabulous story; it’s always exciting to re-discover something that has been lost.