he son of a high-flying Italian senator is taking Christie’s to court in New York City this week (WEDS NOV 6) over the sale of one of the world’s most expensive diamonds, which he claims was stolen from his family.
Amedeo Angiolillo, who now lives in New York, argues that the auction house proceeded with the sale of the $40 million gem (£31m) despite his raising concerns about its provenance. The Princie Diamond, as it is known, as bought by a member of the Qatari royal family.
Christie’s, however, insists that the family members have no proof the diamond belongs to them and, furthermore, their client – who bought it from another family member – had every right to sell the stone.
The story began 300 years ago, when the 34-carat pink diamond was first recorded, in India. It came from the famed Golconda mines near Hyderabad, 400 miles east of Mumbai. The diamond was from a fine “family” – other celebrated Golconda stones include the Agra Diamond, the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, the Koh-i-Noor, which forms part of the Crown Jewels.
The diamond was first known as being part of the collection of the Nizam, or king, of Hyderabad.
It was passed down through the generations until the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, decided to sell it in the late 1940s through Sotheby’s. It was bought by a Paris jeweller, and then sold on.
In 1960 a flamboyant Italian senator, Renato Angiolillo, purchased the diamond at Van Cleef & Arpels – the same year he married his second wife, Maria Girani Angiolillo,
It had been named “Princie” in honour of the 14-year-old Prince of Baroda, a former state of India, who came to a party that year at the Van Cleef & Arpels store in Paris, along with his mother.
Candida Morvillo an Italian investigative journalist who has been following the story of the diamond for years, said that Angiolillo’s son Amedeo told her that his father bought the diamond in Paris.
“My father bought the diamond in the ‘60s,” he reportedly said.
“He had lost a lot of money at the casino in Monte Carlo, about 700 or 800 million lire.
“My father wanted to prove that they are still rich and solid, so he bought that diamond.”
Angiolillo, founder of Italy’s Il Tempo newspaper, died in 1973, aged 72.
His glamorous widow, known as “the queen of the Rome salons” for her lively soirees of political debate, died in 2009.
When Amedeo Angiolillo went through his stepmother’s extensive art and jewellery collection, he was shocked to find the diamond missing.
Unbeknown to him, his stepbrother – Girani’s son from a previous relationship – Marco Milella had taken the stone.
The question is whether the diamond was rightfully Mr Angiolillo’s or Mr Milella’s.
Under Italian law at the time, as court documents explain, all of the late senator’s possessions should have gone to his children, not his spouse, unless they were explicitly left to her.
His will said his wife should keep their home near the Spanish Steps in Rome and its lavish furnishings. But nothing else was mentioned.
So the lawsuit argues that the rest of the estate, including the diamond, belongs to his descendants – Mr Angiolillo and four grandchildren are the plaintiffs in this case.
But the auction house and its co-defendants said that the diamond, set in a ring, was a gift to Mr Milella’s mother and so was owned by her when her husband died. And even if the transfer of ownership between them was not official, the defendants argue, the way she kept control of the ring in the decades that followed his death made it legally hers.
By 2013, the diamond was long gone. Mr Milella had sold it years earlier for nearly $20 million to a prominent gems dealer in Switzerland named David Gol.
Mr Gol, who has said he believes Mr Milella had clear title to the diamond, then worked with Christie’s to sell it as part of a jewellery auction in 2013.
“Prior to the 2013 auction of the diamond, the two main representatives of the family expressly withdrew any objection to the sale,” Christie’s said.
“Then two years after the successful sale they sued to claim inheritance rights to the proceeds without providing any significant new information to support a title claim.”
The auction house described the matter dismissively, as an “inheritance dispute among family members.”