A sapphire and diamond engagement ring bought by Napoleon Bonaparte for his fiancée Josephine sold for well beyond its pre-sale estimate at the Osenat auction firm in France.
The ring was bought for $949,000, with the anonymous bidder paying close to 50 times the $20,000 Osenat had forecast the ring to sell for, said Osenat's Jean-Christophe Chataignier. Adding in the buyer's 25 percent commission to Osenat, brought the total price for the ring to $1.17 million.
"In my wildest dreams, I did not think we would outsell the estimate by more than 47 times," said Osenat's Emily Villane. "We based the estimates in our catalog on the actual market value of the ring, minus Napoleon and Josephine provenance. It is not our job to tell bidders how much they should pay for the historical premium."
There was intense interest in the item, with 50 international bidders waiting on the phone to bid as well as 300 people in the Fontainebleau auction house premises near Paris. The auctioneer also received more than 40 bids by email from the United States alone, Villane added.
Forecasting intense demand for the riung, Osenat set up extra phone lines and took on 10 extra workers to help. "It was 15 minutes of relentless bidding," Villane says. "We opened at 10,000 euros, I raised it to 50,000 euros. From then on it was going up by 10,000 [euros a time]. When the hammer went down at 730,000 euros there was a huge applause."
In addition to queries from global bidders, there were also requests for private spaces a floor above the salesroom where the super-rich could observe and bid in private.
The sale of the ring, made with an 18th century Toi et Moi or You and Me setting with an opposing sapphire and a diamond which weigh just under one carat each, was held to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Josephine's birth.
"At the time Napoleon [bought the ring, he] was a young and promising officer, but he was not rich. He must have broken his wallet to buy this quality ring," Chataignier told ABCNews.com.