A diamond-encrusted military decoration once worn by Russian tsars and their families sold yesterday for a record £2.7m to a private Russian collector.
The Order of St Andrew, dating from 1800 and from the Russian crown jewels, fetched more than four times its estimate of £600,000, setting a new record for any Order at auction.
The 45-carat diamond, measuring 130mm, and weighing 161g, was created to demonstrate the power and wealth of the Russian royals in the early 19th century.
Rosie Innes-Ker, head of Russian art at Sotheby's in London, said she was "absolutely thrilled" with the selling price. The badge, described as a "highly important" piece, would return to Russia with the unnamed buyer.
"It is of great historical importance and we are delighted to say that it was acquired by a Russian private collector who will return it to Russia," she said. The sale represents an increasingly strong market in Russian art and jewellery which has seen a great rise in prices during the past 12 months. There has been a 32 per cent rise in sales this year compared with the total made in the first six months of last year. In 2007, sales of Russia art reached £89.6m.
Commenting on the growth, Jo Vickery, senior director at Sotheby's, said: "This demonstrates the continued growth in this strong market, further supported by an influx of new buyers and collectors from Russia and the CIS," she said.
A spokesman added that, between 2003 and 2007, sales of Russian art had attracted more than 100 new buyers each year from across the globe with buyers from 58 different countries.
The Order bears a finely enamelled figure of the saint on a cross with diamond borders and the letters, SAPR, supported by a crowned double-headed eagle formed of diamonds, with ruby eyes and gold beak and claws.
In spite of its use by the tsar and his family for state occasions, it was given to various foreign rulers who had shown particular favour to the Russian empire.
The badge was among a number of sumptuous pieces commissioned during the reign of Paul I or in the early years of his successor, Alexander I, and has had an illustrious history, worn by the good and the great of Russian nobility.
When Alexander's favourite sister and confidante, the grand duchess, Catherine Pavlovna, married Duke George of Oldenburg in 1809, the tsar conferred the diamond insignia upon the newly married Duke and gave him the added title of "Imperial Highness". It has since then, been passed down the Tsar's descendants.
The badge's sale comes at the end of three days of Russian artwork auctions at Sotheby's.