$2.3m piece of history on display at jewellery expo

Mr Sciaguato holding up the 55-carat emerald pendant which was a gift from Napoleon III to his lover, the Countess of Castiglione.
Mr Sciaguato holding up the 55-carat emerald pendant which was a gift from Napoleon III to his lover, the Countess of Castiglione.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Would you pay US$1.7 million (S$2.3 million) for a piece of history? That is the estimated value of a 19th-century emerald pendant which was given by a French emperor to his lover.

It is now on public display for the first time at the Singapore International Jewelry Expo 2016.

Simply naming the right price will not suffice, however. The piece is not officially up for sale.

"But we can consider it if someone wants to buy it and has a true passion for the item," its owner, Italian jeweller and collector Roberto Sciaguato, said in Italian.

The 55-carat emerald pendant, engraved and shaped by 19th-century Italian jeweller Fortunato Pio Castellani, is more than just a work of art.

It has historical significance as a gift from Napoleon III - France's ruler from 1852 to 1870 - to his lover, the Countess of Castiglione, whose portrait is engraved on the emerald.

"The word 'special' is inadequate to describe it," said Mr Sciaguato. "It's about owning a piece of history. It does not come with a price."

The US$1.7 million figure is one that he gives simply because people keep asking about it, he added.

The piece was valued by European auction houses a few years ago, when a museum was offering to buy it for £1.5 million (S$2.2 million). But Mr Sciaguato decided not to accept the offer: "It would have been more like a commercial trade, and we don't want that."

He will consider selling the piece only if an offer "comes from the heart" and "somebody really falls in love with it".

Mr Sciaguato himself acquired the pendant from another private collector in 1990 and uncovered its past with the help of an expert from the National Roman Museum.

The pendant's history is one reason that he chose to exhibit it here: "We thought that (this would be a chance for) Singapore to see something really beautiful and with a very important story behind it."

Mr Sciaguato's gallery La Piramide is one of more than 220 exhibitors from 25 countries at the expo.

Today is the event's final day. Held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Halls A and B, the free exhibition runs from 11.30am to 7.30pm.

Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that Napoleon III ruled from 1852 to 1970. It should be 1870. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline '$2.3m piece of history on display at jewellery expo'. Print Edition | Subscribe