All eyes will be on an exquisite jadeite necklace, touted to be the world’s most expensive, as it makes its way to the Sotheby’s in Hong Kong this coming April for the auction house’s Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Spring Sale. With Chinese collectors known to be driving up the price of jade in recent years—even surpassing gold in China—this necklace is expected to fetch a record US$12.8 million.
The Hutton-Mdivani necklace, once belonging to socialite and heiress Barbara Woolworth Hutton, is said to comprise beads reportedly from the Qing imperial Court, according to Sotheby’s press release—a fact which could make the necklace even more valuable to Chinese bidders.
“Considering the impressive size and quality, it is likely the beads on the Hutton-Mdivani Necklace would have been presented to the imperial court,” states Sotheby’s. The press release also suggests that the jadeite beads could possibly have been “removed” from the Qing imperial palace during the “political instability of the late 19th century,” when it was fashioned into the necklace by Cartier. This language hints at the idea that the beads may have been looted, as many relics were from the Old Summer Palace when it was destroyed by the British in 1860. Sotheby’s likely included this hint for Chinese buyers, since nationalistic Chinese bidders hoping to repatriate looted items have caused prices to skyrocket in recent years. The most famous example of this phenomenon has been demonstrated by a set of 12 bronze zodiac heads looted from the Summer Palace in 1860, which have been known to appreciate in value with each appearance at auction.
The necklace disappeared from public eye for over five decades until it resurfaced at an auction in 1988 in Hong Kong. It sold for US$2 million, and made headlines as the most expensive piece of jadeite jewelry in the world. Six years later, in 1994, it was once again sold in Hong Kong for another record of US$4.2 million.
As Chinese investors continue to eschew the stock market in favor of hard assets, such as art and jewelry, they are pushing up prices at auction houses, often outbidding Western buyers. As reported in The New York Times, newly affluent Chinese collectors have taken a keen eye to buying anything Chinese-related in the auction houses, making China the second-largest art market in the world after the United States.
“I don’t have a specialization,” says Liu Yiqian, a financier from Shanghai who has amassed a huge collection of Chinese art from Song dynasty paintings to works by Fang Lijun, to The New York Times. “As long as it’s Chinese, I’ll collect it.”
With the trend Chinese collectors pushing up prices everywhere, it won’t be surprising if this piece sets a significant record at the coming Sotheby’s auction and many more jadeite records are set in the future.