GENEVA — Sotheby's auctioned off $78 million in jewels Tuesday night, fetching just under $3 million for a fancy yellow diamond belonging to actress Gina Lollobrigida that was once owned by a shah of Persia and she hoped would now bring more support for stem cell research.
The auction house said the diamond was a highlight in a collection of 23 jewels that the 85-year-old actress, who starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra and other top actors in the 1950s and 1960s, was selling partly to fund an international hospital for stem cell treatment.
Jewelry, watches and other luxury items are sold every spring by the big auction houses at Geneva's elegant lakefront hotels – seemingly a world away from some European countries whose economies are shrinking as their governments enact often tough budget austerity measures to get a handle on their debts.
The 74.53-carat fancy yellow diamond that was sold off once belonged to Ahmad Shah Qajar, the shah of Persia from 1909 to 1925 and the last ruler of the Qajar dynasty. Its sale for $2,985,750 set both an auction record and a record price per carat – an eye-popping $40,061 per carat – for a fancy yellow diamond, according to a statement Sotheby's issued at the conclusion of the auction.
Sotheby's said eight bidders fought for Lollobrigida's natural pearl earrings, which finally sold for $2.39 million and set a new auction record for such an item.
Lollobrigida said after the auction that her jewels had brought her much pleasure for many years, and she only thought of selling them after seeing a little girl named Sofia suffering from a disorder that required stem cell treatment which she could not find in her native Italy.
"Selling my jewels to help raise awareness of stem cell therapy, which can cure so many illnesses, seems to me a wonderful use to which to put them," she said. "It is my hope that the Italian parliament will approve this ground-breaking treatment, so that children and adults in Italy should have free access to it without having to travel abroad at great expense."
David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby's Switzerland and its European and Middle East jewelry departments, said Lollobrigida's collection included some of the finest designs created by Bulgari in the 1950s and 1960s, and their sale reflects her generosity and humanitarian work.
Her jewels were just the top draw at an auction of hundreds of pieces that Sotheby's said brought in an estimated $78,229,556.
Among the other items auctioned off was Barcelona star Lionel Messi's Audemars Piguet No. 10 Royal Oak Chronograph wristwatch, which sold for $81,850 to raise money for the four-time FIFA player of the year's foundation.