Tycoon buys Jackie's ring for $2.5m

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The Independent Online
The most expensive and arguably the most exquisite item sold so far in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis auction in New York - a white diamond ring almost as big as a thumb - was snared by the Irish entrepreneur Tony O'Reilly.

Sources close to Dr O'Reilly, a former Irish rugby international and chairman of the Heinz food group, confirmed last night that he had bought the 40-carat ring for more than $2.5m as a gift to his wife, Chryss Goulandris, of the leading Greek shipping family, whom he married in 1991.

The identity of Dr O'Reilly - whose Irish newspaper company is a major shareholder in Newspaper Publishing, the publishers of the Independent - surfaced as the bidding frenzy for souvenirs from the Camelot era of Jackie O and JFK continued unabated at the Sotheby's in New York.

First under the hammer yesterday: a three-string necklace of fake pearls immortalised in a photograph of Jackie's toddler son, John, tugging at them from her neck. The pre-sale estimated price: $500-$700. What it raised: $211,500. For Dr O'Reilly, the diamond, known as the Lesotho III after the region in which the original stone was mined, offers a symbolism bringing together Ireland (through the Kennedys), the United States and the Greek shipping industry. It was given to Jackie as an engagement gift by Aristotle Onassis.

The actual bidding was performed by Al Lippert, a co-founder of Weight Watchers, which is owned by Heinz. Mr Lippert was in the auction room taking guidance from Mr O'Reilly on the telephone. Mr Lippert said only that he had bought it for a "dear friend".

With one day still to go in the sale - the final item, Lot 1195, is a BMW 325i four-door saloon that belonged to Mrs Onassis - one thing is no longer in doubt: the American love affair with the legend of Jackie O and Camelot burns still.