Art Market

Christie’s is being sued for selling a $40-million diamond in 2013.

Christy Kuesel
Oct 31, 2019 4:57PM, via New York Times

The New York headquarters of Christie’s. Photo by Leonard J. DeFrancisci, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Princie diamond is an enchanting, pale pink stone, weighing in at 34.65 carats. It brought in $39.3 million at a Christie’s auction in 2013, setting a new record for a jewel sold by the auction house. Now, it’s at the center of a lawsuit involving Christie’s, a late Italian senator’s heirs, a gems dealer from Switzerland, and the Qatari royal family.

In short, the descendants of Senator Renato Angiolillo, who was also the publisher of famed Roman newspaper Il Tempo, are suing Christie’s for selling the diamond despite accusations that Angiolillo’s stepson had stolen it from the family. According to the New York Times, Christie’s feels the issue is an “inheritance dispute among family members,” while the plaintiffs argue that the auction house had been aware that there was an Italian investigation into the diamond at the time of the auction, so it should not have proceeded with the sale.

Angiolillo bought the diamond in 1960. The plaintiffs argue that all of his possessions should have gone to his children when he died in 1973, while Christie’s and its co-defendants say that the ring was a gift to his wife, and therefore belonged to her. Maria Girani Angiolillo, the senator’s wife, held onto the ring for at least the next 35 years, but Angiolillo’s stepson absconded with the ring sometime after his mother’s death, selling it for $20 million to a Swiss gems dealer. Italian courts have dismissed charges against the stepson due to the statute of limitations.

The case then turns to Christie’s, which is where the Swiss gems dealer sold the ring in 2013. The dealer said he had believed the stepson had the right to sell the diamond at the time of the sale. Sheikh Jassim Bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family, purchased the ring for $39.3 million. It was then sent to a storage facility in Switzerland, where it remains. His wife, Sheikha al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is the chairwoman of Qatar Museums and an extremely influential person in the art world.

The trial between Christie’s and Angiolillo’s descendants—which comprises the senator’s surviving son and four grandchildren—is scheduled to begin in New York this week.

Update: November 1st, 2019

This case was put on hold by a four-judge panel on October 31st while an appellate court hears an appeal brought by the co-defendants. In a statement provided to Artsy, a Christie’s spokesperson said:

This issue stems from a long-standing and highly contentious inheritance dispute among the members of an Italian family, who claim to be heirs of a past owner of the pink diamond. Prior to Christie’s sale of the diamond in 2013, the two main representatives of the family expressly withdrew any objection to the sale, then two years after the successful sale they sued to claim inheritance rights to the proceeds without providing any significant new information to support a title claim. Because this matter unfortunately has not been resolved to date among the family members, the issue is proceeding through the courts.
Christy Kuesel