The 35.65-carat cushion-cut, fancy intense pink Princie Diamond.
Discovered more than 300 years ago from an ancient mine in Golconda, India, it originally was the property of the of the royal family of Hyderabad, a nearby kingdom that at the time was one of the wealthiest provinces of the Moghul empire.
There were stories at the turn of the 20th century that the stone had fallen into the possession of the Sultan of Turkey, but those rumors were dashed when it was mentioned in a Time Magazine profile of the Nizam of Hyderabad, when he was named the publication’s Richest Man in the World in February 1937.
In 1960, the diamond resurfaced as part of an auction featuring “The Property of a Gentleman,” with the seller being identified as one of the remaining family members of the Hyderabad royal family. It was sold to Van Cleef and Arpels, the French fine jewelry company.
It was then that the diamond got its distinctive name. An in-store celebration to introduce pink diamonds to the public was attended by then 14-year old Prince of Baroda. The diamond was named “Princie” in his honor.
In 2012 the diamond went on the block again at Christie’s in New York. It sold for $39.32 million dollars to an anonymous call-in bidder, setting a new world auction record for a Golconda diamond. It later was revealed that the buyer was Sheikh Jassim Bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family.
ITALIAN POLITICIAN’S FAMILY FUED
Fast forward to the 2020 and the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, which is hearing the appeal of the estate of a long-deceased Italian politician’s family, which has claimed that Christie’s sold the diamond in 2013 despite accusations that was stolen. At the heart of the case is whether the widow of the Italian politician had a legitimate claim of ownership over the diamond, and whether her own son, had the right to sell it.
The politician in question was Senator Renato Angiolillo, who bought the Princie at Van Cleef & Arpels in 1960, which is the same year that he married his second wife, Maria Girani Angiolilo.
Senator Angiolillo died in 1973, and the plaintiffs in the case, the children and grandchildren from the senator’s first marriage, assert that under Italian law at the time all of his possessions should have gone to his children, unless they were explicitly left to someone else. The plaintiff’s claim that he left his second wife their home near the Spanish Steps in Rome, including its furnishings, but it did not mention the diamond.
Mrs. Angiolilo’s son, Marco Milella claims that the Princie Diamond, set in a ring, was a gift to Ms. Angiolillo, and that he inherited the stone from his mother, which would have allowed him to sell it.
He did just that it in 2009, upon the death of his mother, selling it to a Swiss diamond dealer by the name of David Gol, who along with Christie’s is a defendant in the case
The cover of Time Magazine’s 1937 profile on the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was named richest man in the world.
Senator Renato Angiolillo, who bought the Princie at Van Cleef & Arpels in 1960, and whose will is now at the center of the courtroom battle.
A QUESTION OF LEGAL JURISDICTION
For its part, Christie’s claimed that it had spent at least $120,000 to investigate the provenance of the diamond and there was no evidence that Senator Angiolillo’s children had inherited it. It further argued that the descendants had never declared that they had inherited the diamond on their taxes, although it transpired that neither Mrs. Angiolillo or Mr. Milella paid taxes on it either.
The auction house has further claimed that its consignor, Mr. Gol, has purchased the gem in Switzerland, where property can be acquired legally if a good faith purchaser is not aware of any accusations of theft.
Christie’s claim of buying the stone in good faith is important, because it would like to have the case decided in a Swiss court, where the law says that property can be considered as having been acquired legally if a good faith purchaser is not aware of any accusations of theft.
But the New York Appellate court accepted the plaintiffs’ counter-claim that, since auction had taken place in New York, Christie’s could not pick and choose which law to apply. The court cited the “strong New York contacts” in the case and said that the state’s “overwhelming interest in protecting the integrity of its market.”
In response the auction house release a statement saying that “while Christie’s is disappointed by the appellate court’s decision, we continue to believe that the evidence at trial will demonstrate that Christie’s consignor had the right to sells the diamond at issue and that Christie’s acted in complete good faith in doing so in April 2013.”