The Spirit of the Rose
Live Auction: 11 November 2020 • 8:30 PM CET • Geneva

The Spirit of the Rose 11 November 2020 • 8:30 PM CET • Geneva

S otheby’s is honoured to present a superb and exceptionally rare 14.83 carat Fancy Vivid Purple-Pink, Internally Flawless, Type IIa diamond. Named ‘The Spirit of the Rose’ after Vaslav Nijinsky’s legendary ballet, Le Spectre de la rose, the diamond was mined, cut and polished in Russia. Its unparalleled qualities make it the largest Purple-Pink diamond to ever appear at auction.


“Color is all. When color is right, form is right. Color is everything, color is vibration like music; everything is vibration.”
Marc Chagall

From Russia with Love

The stone was cut from the largest pink crystal ever mined in Russia which is currently the world’s most important diamond producer by volume. The 27.85-carat clear pink rough diamond was itself called the “Nijinsky”, a nod to the legendary dancer and his acclaimed performance as the “Rose” in the original Ballets Russes performance.

The “Nijinsky”, 27.85-carat clear pink rough diamond

The rough diamond was unearthed by ALROSA - one of the world's leading diamond producers - from the Ebelyakh deposit in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the northeast of Russia in July 2017. Russia has a long and rich tradition of gem-cutting and it took a whole year for Alrosa cutting masters to turn the diamond into its polished form. The oval shape was chosen in order to ensure that the diamond would be of the maximum possible size, while the dozens of facets would also emphasize the stone’s gentle, rose-petal colour.

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The Ballet Russes

The ‘Ballets Russes’ allowed Europe and the rest of the Western world to discover the genius and talent of Russian dancers and choreographers at the beginning of the 20th century. This itinerant ballet company was based in Paris and performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and toured North and South America. Conceived by impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes is regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century and promoted artistic collaborations among choreographers, composers, designers, dancers, and the fashion industry.

JEAN COCTEAU, Ballets Russes, 1913 (Cocteau / 2020, ProLitteris, Zurich) ©Victoria & Albert Museum, Lond

‘The Spirit of the Rose’, is the title of the most famous ballet performed by the Ballets Russes and for which Nijinsky is universally known and recognised. It was written by Jean-Louis Vaudoyer who based the story on a verse by the 19th century French poet Théophile Gautier. The ballet premiered in Monte Carlo on 19 April 1911. It depicted a young girl, performed by Tamara Karsavina, who, after returning from her first ball, fell asleep and dreamt that she was dancing with a rose, personified by Nijinsky. It was a tremendous success, and Nijinsky’s spectacular leap through a window at the end of the performance became legendary, as did his costume, which was designed by Leon Bakst. The elastic silk into which Nijinsky was sewn before every performance, was covered with silk rose petals which the wardrobe mistress had to touch up with her curling iron. It is said that the dancer’s servant, Vasili, collected the petals that fell to the stage floor and sold them as souvenirs and that the profit allowed him to build a house.

Le Spectre de la Rose (the French title for The Spirit of the Rose) was one of the most loved productions of the Ballets Russes and Europe and America discovered Russian folklore through the representations of the Ballets. They drove the imagination and inspiration of fashion and jewellery designers. Coco Chanel was one of the costume designers of the Ballets Russes.

Photo of Nijinsky and Karsavina in the first performance of Spectre de la rose 1911

Fascinated by the Russian folklore, the beauty of the dance and the combination of the arts - music, dance, fashion, design-, the renowned jewellery Maisons of the day created new pieces inspired by this social phenomenon. The Ballets invited themselves into the jewellery vocabulary and eventually the Art Deco period became very receptive to the new motifs and the historic discoveries to find a place in the fashion and the design worlds. Charles Jacqueau, Cartier’s main designer from the time of the First World War, began to adapt the ideas and images of the Ballets Russes for jewellery designs. It was a revelation for the designer. His wife, Suzanne, recalled him following the Ballets Russes with bated breath, sketchbook in hand, to capture the colours of the costumes and the swirling movement. In 1910, the ballet Schéhérazade fired the imagination of critics, artists and audiences. “Overnight Paris fashion designers were persuaded to turn to the Orient in their search for inspiration. The couturier Paul Poiret who, thanks to Ida Rubinstein, had direct access to Diaghilev’s world, created turbans topped with aigrettes, and a harem dress with Turkish trousers lifted straight out of Schéhérazade” (Hans Nadelhoffer, Cartier).

Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950) in Le Spectre de la Rose, Paris, 1911. By George Barbier 1882-1932, ''Nijinsky'', 1913

The Ballets Russes illustrated the links between the arts, history, jewellery, beauty and fashion. The Spirit of the Rose is the ideal name for a stone which reflects beauty and mystery; a diamond for which the magnificence and the grandeur of Russia were fully unveiled by the cutter who brought out its inner and magical beauty. Mined, cut and polished in Russia, ‘The Spirit of the Rose’ will now be presented to the world and will enter jewellery history. The discovery of the rough in 2017 was already an historic event and the auction of such a wonder of nature is without a doubt another thrilling moment. Sotheby’s is honoured to be entrusted with this sale and to be able to exhibit this stone to a broad audience and allow a jewellery and gemstone connoisseur and collector to own a masterpiece.

“The occurrence of pink diamonds in nature is extremely rare in any size. Only one per cent of all pink diamonds are larger than 10-carats and only four percent of all pink diamonds are graded ‘Fancy Vivid’ and display a rich, vivid colour. Having the opportunity to offer a large polished pink diamond of over 10-carats and with the richness of colour and purity of The Spirit of the Rose is therefore truly exceptional. The diamond’s character and immense presence is further enhanced by its perfect cut and oval shape: the numerous facets and shades of pink dance in front of your eyes in a mesmerizing way. It is a natural wonder, steeped in Russia’s century-long diamond tradition and cultural heritage.”
Gary Schuler, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s Jewellery Division

Sotheby's Unveils Carine Roitfeld's Le Spectre De La Rose
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Ahead of our upcoming sale, we asked former Vogue editor and fouder of CR Fashion Book, Carine Roitfeld, to style a modern day performance of the classic ballet ‘Le Spectre de la Rose’ after which this exceptionally rare Purple-Pink 14.83 carat diamond takes its name.

In this webinar, get an exclusive look at the performance and hear Carine Roitfeld in conversation with Tamara Rojo of the English National Ballet, dance writer Ismene Brown and our Head of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels, Benoit Repellin. Together they explore the story of the original Russian ballet, which revolutionised 20th century art, theatre and fashion.

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The Importance of the Russian Mining Industry
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  • The Beginning of Commercial Mining

    Although diamonds had been found in various locations around Russia for more than 150 years, the prospect of commercial mining in the territory was first investigated in 1938 by scientists at the Leningrad State University. They compared the geology of the Soviet Union with the diamondiferous regions around the world.

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  • The Discovery of Diamond Deposits in Yakutia

    In June 1954, Larisa Popugaeva a Soviet geologist discovered a kimberlite surface, later called the Zarnitsa mine in Yakutia. The following year, another 10 pipes were opened in the area. Mir was the first diamond mine developed in Russia; new cities were built near the deposits.

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  • The Development of Mining Communities

    Mir was the first diamond mine developed in Russia; new cities were built near the deposits. The country’s most productive diamond mine by volume was discovered a few years later about 400 kilometers north of Mir. Polished Russian diamond started to appear in the late 1960s. By the 1980s, an estimate of 25% by value originated from Russian mines. The name Yakutia changed to Sakha Republic after the Soviet Union was dissolved.

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  • Diamond Mining Today - ALROSA

    Today, ALROSA is one of the leading diamond mining companies in the world, its share making up 27% of the world and 95% of the Russian diamond mining industry. With its own diamond cutting facility, centuries-old Russian diamond cutting traditions are revived, cutting the highest quality diamonds worldwide which are all manufactured from its own natural rough diamonds. ALROSA mines rough diamonds from a variety of natural environments. From open pits, underground mines and placer fields to the waters of Yakutian rivers and lakes, Russia is a treasure trove for these natural wonders.

    Painstakingly, each stone is mined by using state-of-the-art machinery and experts on the ground to sort through large amounts of ore in order to find the rough diamond which will later be transformed into a cut diamond. In order to unlock the beauty of a rough diamond, ALROSA employs decade old cutting skills to unleash the diamond’s hidden beauty. Their experts painstakingly examine the rough diamond to determine what the stone can be fashioned into.

    Through 3D models, laser technology and artisanal cutting methods, the process is a precise art, requiring skills and experience. ALROSA also implements major investment projects aimed at the extension of its resource portfolio and the reconstruction of its industrial facilities, as well as managing social development problems, through active participation in the social life of Yakutia.

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"Russia is also an intermittent source of pink diamonds, and currently the world’s largest diamond producer by volume, responsible for around 30% of the world’s diamond output each year. In 2015 alone, 41.9 million carats of diamonds were mined in Russia."
Excerpts from the GIA monograph

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