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.

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

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