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26 February 2024

Christie’s set to host $25m auction

By Maha Obeid


The charm, style and elegance of legendary Egyptian singer Um Kulthum will be rediscovered when one of her most precious items of jewellery goes under the hammer next month. Um Kulthum was born to a poor family in a village in the Nile Delta of Egypt and carved her name in history as one of the most famous Arab singers of the 20th century.


Her repertoire included more than 300 songs with themes ranging from love to nationalism to religion. The majority were sung in colloquial Arabic; although some were in classical Arabic, written by famous poets.


She was born in 1904 and died on February 4, 1975. Fans all over the world mourned her death and more than four million people attended her funeral, which was the second largest in Egyptian history after President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Um Kulthum was a favourite of Nasser and presidents around the world, including Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late ruler of the UAE.


Sheikh Zayed, the founder and first president of the UAE, presented the singer with a magnificent natural pearl necklace. It is now in the public eye because the singer’s family have decided to sell it. Christie’s will auction it on April 29 at the Contemporary Jewels and Watches sale at Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai.


This will be Christie’s fourth series of sales of contemporary jewels and watches/international modern and contemporary art in Dubai. These sales, held in spring and autumn each year, began in May 2006.


The interest in art and jewellery is almost equal in the region – at the November 1, 2007 jewellery auction, sales reached $16.5 million (Dh61m). At the October 31, 2007 art auction, sales hit $15m.


The significance of the Um Kulthum sale centres around her as “one of the most famous Arab women in history”, Michael Jeha, Managing Director Christie’s Middle East, told Emirates Business. Christie’s expects a lot of interest in the pearl necklace, conservatively estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.


“We expect it to exceed its estimate. The provenance of the piece can affect its value, people love to buy provenance, they love to buy into history. It adds to the piece and increases its value.”


Christie’s opened its representative office in Dubai in April 2005 and has so far staged five auctions in the Middle East, achieving over $61m in sales. According to Jeha, the weakening of the US dollar has not impacted Christie’s sales.


“There are more people now looking at art as a form of investment. People see it as a way of diversifying their assets. We have such an extensive international base of clients, so the weakening of the dollar is not affecting sales.”


The combined fame of Um Kulthum and the fact that the late Sheikh Zayed donated the necklace makes it even more of a collector’s item, Jeha explained.


The necklace boasts approximately 1,888 pearls. It is an antique nine-row pearl necklace with multi-coloured enamel and white stone details, in the style of a traditional Indian Satlada necklace, and was created circa 1880.


“She used to treat the pearl necklace with absolute care and it was one of her favourites because it was given to her by the late Sheikh Zayed Al Nayhan, the founder of the UAE,” according to a member of the singer’s family.


The heirloom will be one of 33 lots of pearls in a special pearl collection. In addition to the pearls, there will be 180 to 200 lots of jewels and watches.


“For the first time in the Middle East, we have created a dedicated pearl section. It’s a very exciting section and it contains two of the largest pearls in the world. We think it’s a great idea because Dubai at one time was the centre of the pearl trade so it is steeped in tradition.

"Through this auction, we want to help make Dubai to the centre of the pearl market. The pre-auction estimate is $18 to $25 million – which will be the highest value we have ever had in the Middle East and we hope will take the market to a new level,” Jeha said.


Christie’s experts have collected from the pearls all over the world.


“They source them from around the world – from private sources as well as from the trade, from a huge base of clients. They spend three to four months flying around the world sourcing these. It is very much a global collection,” Jeha said.


The top lots include an exceedingly rare pearl, valued at $600,000 to $800,000. According to Christie’s, it is almost certainly the largest example of its colour in the world – a yellow to pinkish-orange natural pearl, 241.44 grains (60.36 carats).


It is the second largest round pearl ever recorded, and the fourteenth largest natural pearl. There is also a natural pearl and diamond pendent necklace, valued at $120,000 to $150,000.


According to Jeha, Christie’s is expecting at least 50 per cent of bidders to be international, from art capitals such as Geneva, London, New York, Paris and Hong Kong. The target market is also art collectors in the UAE and Middle East – including Arab, European and Indian expats.

In addition to that, Christie’s is seeing “more and more local participation”. The jewels and watches auction will act as a precursor to the art auction on April 30. The art line-up will include some of the finest works by Arab and Iranian artists.


Highlights include a work by Syrian artist Fateh Moudarres at $200,000/$300,000, Lebanese artist Paul Guiragossian at $200,000/$300,000 and Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli at $400,000/$600,000.


The sale also features a strong Western section, with a sculpture from Robert Indiana’s love series, valued at $1m to $1.5m. The pre-sale value of the entire auction is approximately $10m to 12m.


Designer Jewels


The trend of celebrities showing off the most precious and beautiful jewellery has continued since Um Kulthum’s era and now the favourite place to show-off the latest designs is the red carpet.


At the 80th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood last month, Australian actress Nicole Kidman debuted a stunning rough and polished diamond sautoir necklace designed by L’Wren Scott.

The spectacular sautoir, worn with a long, black dress, contains a total of 7,645 diamonds including rough, faceted, and polished diamonds, which total nearly 1,400 carats.


The sautoir was produced and manufactured by Uni-Design Limited in Paris and India.
It uses a wide range of shapes and cuts of diamonds.

Each diamond was individually selected by Scott to fit together into an overall design.


The intricate design was handcrafted and required more than 6,200 hours to create.

L’Wren Scott is a former model and now a talented designer of both a luxury clothing line and diamond jewellery.


During her career in fashion she has established many loyal fans and she is one of the preferred stylists to celebrities and the fashion world alike.