'Blue Belle' sapphire sets new world record

GENEVA - A sapphire known as the Blue Belle of Asia has set a new world record after selling for more than 17 million dollars at a rare jewellery auction in Geneva, Christie's said.

The 392.52-carat gem was snapped up by a private collector Tuesday night for 16.965 million Swiss Francs (S$23 million, US$17.29 million, 13.87 million euros), the highest ever for a sapphire at auction.

The Ceylon sapphire mounted on a diamond necklace was the highlight of a sale of rare and historical jewels that brought in 150.21 million dollars - also a record for the "Magnificent Jewels" sales held regularly around the world by Christie's.

Other star lots included a pair of Cartier tigers, formerly in the collection of the Duchess of Windsor, which sparked a bidding battle before they were sold for $3.14 million.

And a 19th-century brooch that once belonged to the French Empress Eugenie's was sold for $2.33 million.

According to Rahul Kadakia, international head of Christie's jewellery department, around 600 people from 30 countries took part in the auction, which far exceeded pre-sale estimates of 80 million dollars.

Combined Christie's sales of jewellery and fine watches held in Geneva from Sunday to Tuesday reached 185 million dollars, the highest ever since the auctioneer's first sale in Switzerland in 1969.

Rival auctioneer Sotheby's will be staging its own jewellery sale in Geneva on Wednesday, wrapping up the November auction season in the Swiss capital.