Aga Khan fails to stop former wife's jewellery sale

Auction battle: Legal fight ends with the withdrawal of pieces from multi-million pound disposal of 'sumptuous' collection

MARIANNE MACDONALD

The Aga Khan's final attempt to stop his ex-wife selling her multi-million pound collection of jewels failed yesterday, allowing Christie's in Geneva to press ahead with Monday's auction.

Princess Salimah's jewels are estimated to fetch in excess of pounds 7m and are described by the auction house as the most "sumptuous" to appear on the market since 1987, when the Duchess of Windsor's jewels were sold.

The Aga Khan, one of the world's richest men, had resorted to the courts in the last of several bids to stop his former wife's much-publicised sale. But yesterday's ruling in the Geneva appeals court went against him.

"It's a big relief," Princess Salimah said. Francois Curiel, director of Christie's international jewellery department, commented: "I'm thrilled ... It's the end of a sad story."

The legal fight began after Princess Salimah consigned jewels worth an estimated pounds 7m to Christie's in the summer. The former top model, born Sally Croker Poole, wanted funds to set up a charitable foundation.

But the Aga Khan's lawyers argued in a two-week battle in the courts that under the terms of their client's divorce agreement, made earlier this year, the bulk of the princess's jewellery had to remain within the Aga Khan's family unless she needed to sell for financial reasons.

They won a provisional ruling at the end of last month stopping the auction, and argued at a later court hearing that the divorce agreement gave the Aga Khan first option to buy certain items.

The pieces to be sold include the "Begum Blue", a blue heart-shaped diamond of 13.78 carats which forms the centrepiece of a necklace of 41 smaller heart-shaped diamonds. This is expected to realise pounds 4.5m alone.

Other lots feature pieces by the noted Roman jeweller Buccellati, and a collection of jewels by Harry Winston, Bulgari and Marina B, and Indian Moghul jewellery including an 18th century enamelled "fish" necklace.

The Princess had hoped to offer more than 250 pieces of jewellery; some inherited from her grandmothers, and some which were gifts. They include suites of carved emeralds and diamonds designed for her by Van Cleef and Arpels, Boucheron and Cartier.

But the court ordered that 23 lots, worth less than pounds 150,000, be withdrawn from the auction and sold to the Aga Khan. However, the glamour of the collection is not much affected. Mr Curiel said: "This is the first time in my 25 years as a jewellery specialist at Christie's that we are offering such a complete and magnificent jewellery collection for sale."

Princess Salimah, 55, was born in Delhi, where her father was an officer in the 6th Lancers. She attended a Parisian finishing school before coming out in 1958, aged 18. A marriage to Lord James Crichton-Stuart lasted two years, and she went on to carve out a career as one of England's top fashion models. In 1969 she married the Aga Khan.

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