DUBAI // Wanted: a buyer for a giant carved sapphire – yours for US$180 million, or just over Dh660m.
The 28-centimetre Millennium Sapphire, mined in Madagascar in 1995, has been carved with the likenesses of historical figures such as Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King.
The 61,500-carat gem is owned by a consortium of wealthy investors led by Daniel McKinney, an entrepreneur in Asia.
The owners want to sell but decided against putting up the stone for auction because they would have had no control over who bought it. Mr McKinney’s business partner, Scott Chapman, has been in the UAE for eight months seeking a buyer.
“I’ve written letters, knocked on doors and met people who said they knew somebody who knew somebody,” he said.
“If somebody wanted to buy it for their personal collection that would be good, but it would be great if it could be displayed in a museum as that’s why it was created. The consortium wants to be able to display it and show it.
“They’ve had the sapphire for 15 years and it’s been sitting in a safe in an undisclosed place in the US.”
Speaking from Malaysia, Mr McKinney said: “The consortium has owned it all this time and it’s a considerable investment. The guidance I’ve got from the consortium now is to try to find a home for it in some museum where the public can see it on a regular basis. That’s the mandate.
“We’ve got offers in the past from various millionaires and billionaires from China and other places to buy it for themselves, but they would probably put it in their mausoleum and it would be lost to the world.
“We’re trying to find a museum or some well-heeled billionaire to buy it and then make it available or loan it to a museum, or actually donate it to a museum. We’ve given Scott authorisation to negotiate on behalf of the consortium.
“I understand there are a number of new museums going up in the region and people there are interested in collecting significant pieces of art.”
In 2002 the Guinness Book of World Records declared the gem the world’s largest carved sapphire, although this record has since been broken.
The stone has been seen in public twice – at the 2002 Academy Awards and in 2004 on the maiden voyage of the Sapphire Princess cruise liner, which began in Seattle.
“When the Princess line shipped it to Seattle and it was on board for three or four days, the insurance bill alone was $250,000 just for those few days,” said Mr Mckinney. “The security bill was about $300,000.”
Mr Chapman has a dossier of authentication papers to show to prospective buyers. It includes reports from four certification bodies, including the Gemological Institute of America, confirming that the stone is genuine.
Other papers include a certificate from Guinness World Records and a report from a gemological laboratory valuing the sapphire at $180m.
The papers will be crucial during any sale negotiations.
“In general, the collectors in the Middle East are very mature and knowledgeable and will cross-check such offers through their advisers,” said Ramin Salsali, a Dubai art collector and museum owner.
“They need to do due diligence. Normally such pieces are offered via auction houses to guarantee the provenance.”
The founder of the Salsali Private Museum in Al Quoz, Mr Salsali, said there was a market in the UAE and the region for such rare items.
“There is always interest in unique pieces,” he said.