Old Indian diamonds, Burmese rubies and Colombian emeralds were found among the jewelry collection of Imelda Marcos, former first lady and sitting congresswoman, Christie's said on Tuesday (November 24) after the Philippines government asked them to appraise the rare stones.
Manila may decide to auction the collections after the two leading auction houses -- Christie's and Sotheby's -- appraise three sets of jewelry confiscated from the Marcoses almost three decades ago.
In 1991, the jewelry collections were valued at $6-8 million, and Christie's has so far found valuable pieces in their recent appraisal. Christie's says some of the pieces have increased in value since the previous appraisal.
"Some of the pieces are so important, so magnificent. There's a very wide variety of pieces - antique to modern, which is again what you would see in a current day royal collection - things that fit every occasion. So if you put me in there to value the jewelry and I had no knowledge of where it came from, I would say this feels like a royal collection," David Warren, director of jewelry at London-based Christie's, said.
Among the finds was a rare 25-carat old barrel-shaped pink diamond valued at $5 million and jewelry with 18th century Indian diamonds, Warren said, adding that Marcos's ownership of the jewelry can certainly drive up prices.
"Provenance is a big seller. People love the story, they love to know something more about jewelry. A lot of jewelry unfortunately carries no story. So when you have something like this where there's a big story, a big provenance, it's a provenance that some people are not going to like, it's a provenance that some people are going to find interesting, that some people will love. It's a mixture, it's a mixture of emotions, obviously because of the history behind it. But it's still provenance, it's a very big provenance, whatever you feel about that," he said.
The government tried to auction Imelda's jewelry in 2005, but the former beauty queen contested the move, claiming ownership of only two of the collections -- one found in the presidential palace after the family's hasty departure in 1986 and one seized in Hawaii where they were in exile.
Marcos, an elected member of Congress and best known for leaving behind more than 1,200 pairs of shoes when her family fled in 1986, has vowed to recover the family's seized assets. The government also confiscated a collection of paintings including Monets and a Picasso.
Imelda's husband, Ferdinand, was president for nearly two decades, before he was ousted in an army-backed uprising in 1986. The dictator, who died in exile in 1989, was accused of amassing more than $10 billion while in office. The family denies their wealth was ill-gotten.
The government allowed the press to see and film some of the 750 pieces of the three collections, which were kept in a vault at the central bank.
"It shows you the excesses of the Marcos regime. At a time when people were suffering, they were collecting this set of jewelry, so I guess it's a matter of perspective also. It's a physical manifestation of all the talk about the problems with the Marcos regime," Andrew de Castro, commissioner of the state agency tasked with recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies, told reporters.
"So I guess especially for young people now - it's nice for them to see it, know that it's real, we're not making this up. These were from the Marcoses and they're very expensive," he added.
Sotheby's will be asked to appraise the jewelry collections starting Thursday (November 26).