The Barbara Hutton-Mdivani Cartier Jade Necklace, sold at auction in April for $27.4 million.
$27.4 million?! For a string of jade beads?
The key to the necklace’s value lies in its rarity. Perfectly matched jadeite beads must all be cut from a single jadeite boulder; boulders of jadeite large enough to yield 27 beads of such vivid color, perfect translucency, and extraordinarily fine texture are rare in the extreme. Even when such boulders are found as few as one in three of the beads they yield make the grade, so the beads are typically cut between five and ten millimeters in diameter. The beads in the Hutton-Mdivani necklace range between 15 and 20 millimeters, more than twice the usual size.
The necklace is named after heiress Barbara Hutton, the original owner of the necklace in its current form (the beads themselves date from the Qing dynasty), and the Princess Nina Mdivani, her sister-in-law; the two were close friends and, in their heyday in the 50s and 60s, both were rich as Croesus. By the 70s, however, both Hutton and Mdivani had spent themselves into virtual penury and lived by selling off their jewels piecemeal; Hutton died on the verge of bankruptcy in 1979. Mdivani lived until 1987, broke and bedridden; upon her death the Hutton-Mdivani necklace was found hidden under her bed.