22 June 2019
The Al Thani sale at Christie’s, the sale of the century?
If you thought that His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, only owned the 450 sumptuous pieces (including 250 bracelets, brooches …) sold at Christie’s in New York on June 19, then think again! An insight into five centuries of Indian jewelry history and mutual influence with the West, they form part of a collection of 6,000 paintings, medieval manuscripts, Fabergé eggs and other objects from civilizations ranging from antiquity to the present day.
A series of records
The first record was the duration of the “Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence” sale itself: 12 hours during which 29 lots exceeded one million dollars, including two Cartier pieces, the front bodice (more than $10 million) and the necklace in spinel, diamonds and natural pearls ($3 million), the Mirror of Paradise diamond ($6.5 million) or the Nizam d’Hyberhabad necklace in Golconde diamonds ($2.5 million). The total amount of the sale, $109 million, represents the auction house’s second largest private collection after Elizabeth Taylor’s ($115 million in 2011 at Christie’s).
The culmination of a high-speed adventure
Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, also President of QIPCO (Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company), built this extraordinary collection in record time – barely 10 years. His advisor Amin Jaffer provided him with the benefit of his expertise and unique network acquired while he was curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum and International Director of Asian Art at Christie’s. Jaffer has developed a particularly effective strategy by organizing nearly ten exhibitions of the Al Thani Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the V&A Museum in London and the Grand Palais in Paris: enough to makes waves across the entire planet.
A way to finance the gallery of the Hôtel de la Marine
Between the official speeches and the rumors, it is impossible to know for sure why this rich Qatari man has sold 400 pieces from his collection…. Because, like any collector, his tastes are changing? Because he needs money? Both? The $100 million will help finance his sponsorships: he has just donated an ivory door to the Guimet Museum and will sponsor the exhibition dedicated to the Maharajah of Indore at the Museum of Decorative Arts in September. Above all, the proceeds will finance his partnership with the National Monuments Centre, involving €20 million for the renovation of a 400m2 gallery in the famous Hôtel de la Marine, once the furniture storage facility of Louis XVI. In exchange, over the next 20 years, the Sheikh will be able to put on a series of exhibitions highlighting his collections.
The Al Thani Collection: business or passion?
This Al Thani collection can be compared to Elizabeth Taylor’s, but there is one huge difference: the American actress’ collection was the result of a lifetime. Each piece of jewelry bore witness to special moments shared above all with Richard Burton. Her collection had this emotional and uncalculated dimension of inestimable value. This “Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence” sale shows that the notion of a collection has evolved. It is no longer the subjective work of an individual but a project coupled with an investment strategy, implemented with incredible speed by a team of specialists.
Viren Baghat, a Bombay jeweler