CHAPTER ONE: NEW YORK
SOTHEBY'S IN MANHATTAN, LOCATED AT 1334 YORK AVENUE NEAR THE EAST RIVER, is a haven for the sybaritic super rich who desire the best and the most expensive, and is the perfect place to auction the world’s rarest diamonds.
The Groots auction was scheduled for 2pm on Friday 14th October, only six days after Catherine’s wedding, and she felt guilty. Guilty for leaving Charlie so soon after their wedding, and secretly guilty for being excited going to the Big Apple for the first time.
The wedding night had been an amazing experience for both of them. Charlie couldn’t believe his luck that this beautiful woman had fallen in love with him and wanted to have sex with him, and Catherine had forgotten how good it was to have great sex and not feel guilty about it, or worry that the guy was just another jerk who would get up and leave in the morning. Her looks had ensured that she’d had plenty of boyfriends when she was younger, but they were only after one thing, and she had become cynical towards men until she met Charlie. He was a breath of fresh air, with no airs and graces and an unassuming guy who wore his cockney background as a badge of honour. That’s what initially attracted her to him. But she had realised over time that his whole persona made most people grossly underestimate Charlie Robertson, like Susan Phillips, Sir Alan Kingston’s secretary, and he used it cleverly to his business advantage. In truth he had a Machiavellian business brain, and could analyse people within a few minutes of first meeting them from a look, a handshake, a mannerism, and had giant plans for Groots & Co. She only hoped she was up to the task and wouldn’t let her new husband down.
She smiled to herself as she was riding in the yellow cab from JFK with Kingston, that the unassuming cockney she had fallen in love with, had also turned out to be a very rich one indeed, and she had to admit now that it had its advantages as the cab pulled up outside the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue.
It was late Wednesday afternoon when they checked in, and Kingston suggested they freshen up then meet down in the bar for a pre-dinner drink before going out to dinner where they could plan their next few days in New York, but before they’d left London, Kingston had pulled Catherine and Charlie aside, and with a serious face had said,
“I want to apologise to you Charlie, and you Catherine, because I’ve been keeping a secret from you both, and now I feel terrible that I haven’t told you before, but the truth is……the truth is…. that I am gay, and I didn’t want either of you to worry about me. You know, going to New York alone with Catherine.”
Catherine smiled and patted him affectionately on the back saying,
“I always thought of you as the perfect Gentleman Sir Alan, so I was never worried about going to New York with you, whether you were straight or gay, but thank you for letting me know.”
Charlie was smiling and said,
“Sir Alan I always thought you were gay from the day we first met, and I was just wondering when you were going to tell me.” Kingston looked quizzically at Charlie and asked,
“What, how did you know?”
“Only Royalty or gay guys dress as well as you do Sir Alan, so it was obvious,” Charlie replied, and all three of them smiled at Charlie’s answer.
Kingston went on to say that he had spoken to Isaac Galinsky, and it was no surprise that Galinsky had a cousin in New York in the diamond business, David Rabinowitz, and he’d arranged for Kingston and Catherine to meet him in New York. Galinsky had said that there wasn’t much going on in the Big Apple diamond world that David didn’t know about. They were due to meet him over dinner at the Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Plaza on Wednesday night. Kingston had booked it so that Catherine could get a great view of New York while they talked over dinner.
After showering in his room, Kingston went downstairs to the ‘Sir Harry’s Lounge’ a bar just off the main lobby, and ordered a Laphroaig with no ice, not wanting to ruin it with just frozen tap water. Waiting for Catherine, he was swirling it in his glass and thinking that, although it had only been a couple of years since his last visit to New York, he’d forgotten the sheer scale and dynamism of the place. He had the feeling that nothing was impossible here. If you wanted a piping hot pizza at 4am delivered to your hotel, or sell the world’s rarest diamonds at extravagant prices, you could do it here.
Kingston finished his first glass, and ordered another along with a Tanqueray and tonic for Catherine, a taste he knew she’d picked up from Charlie, when she came in. They discussed the upcoming auction, agreed to be open with Rabinowitz about the diamonds on offer at Sotheby’s, and talked about wanting to open a Signature Store in New York in the next few years. They finished their drinks and Kingston asked if she would mind walking to the restaurant which was only two blocks west, and Catherine jumped at the chance to get out and get a feel for the Big Apple. They ran the gauntlet of crossing Park Avenue and walked along 49th Street, with Catherine staring in awe at the skyscrapers and lights all the way to Rockefeller Plaza. The Rainbow Room was located on the 65th floor and in truth it wasn’t the best restaurant in town and was in need of renovation, but the view was spectacular. They had a table next to a south facing window and could see the Brooklyn Bridge in the far distance with its catenary of suspension cables defined with hundreds of lights, and what seemed like only a few blocks away, the majestically lit up Empire State as a welcoming beacon to capitalism.
Rabinowitz was already seated at the table, and stood up as they walked over. He was the complete opposite of Isaac Galinsky. He was as tall as Kingston, and very well dressed in a dark blue suit and crisp white shirt with French cuffs, although Catherine thought the bright red power tie was a bit loud, and definitely American rather than English. However, he had perfect manners and shook Kingston’s hand firmly, and lightly kissed Catherine’s, as he effused in a cultured Mid-Atlantic accent, that it was,
“My absolute pleasure to meet you both, after Isaac has told me so much about you and your exciting pink diamonds.”
He was the epitome of charm, and Catherine guessed that he had developed this skill to flatter, and then to sell expensive diamonds to rich New York socialites. After the initial pleasantries, they started to talk to Rabinowitz about why they were in New York, for the Sotheby’s auction, then to check out possible locations for a Signature Store, and to get the rundown on the diamond scene in New York. For the next two hours they went through everything at the end of which, both Kingston and Catherine were impressed with Rabinowitz, and his knowledge of the diamond business in the Big Apple. He had explained that,
“The main diamond district is in midtown Manhattan on West 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. There are traditional jewellery shops at street level, then in the buildings above is the whole gamut of the diamond industry, apart from actually mining the raw stones themselves. They have diamond grading, cutting, polishing & finishing, setting, jewellery design, and plenty of goldsmiths to put them in a ring or a necklace. You name it I can guarantee you will find it there. It’s similar to Hatton Garden in London, only in skyscrapers. Why don’t I take you on a tour of the area tomorrow morning to meet a few people and so you can get a feel for it yourselves?”
“Great idea, we’d love to,” Catherine spoke for them both, excited to see as much as she could in the few days she was here.
“Then perhaps after lunch I could show you a few possible locations for your Signature Store? From what you and Isaac have told me, it shouldn’t be in the diamond district but be more upmarket, probably on 5th Avenue, maybe Park Avenue at a pinch. But I should warn you that anywhere there will be very expensive.”
“I think that sounds perfect David, thank you. We realise that a good location in Manhattan for a Signature Store will be expensive, but at this stage we are only trying to get a feel for the costs, and what would be involved,” Kingston explained.
“Okay, how about I pick you up from your hotel at 9.30?”, Rabinowitz suggested.
They left the Rainbow Room at about 10.30 for their walk back to the Waldorf. Catherine was excited but feeling sleepy - it was 2.30am in London. She wanted to ring Charlie and tell him all about New York, but it would have to wait until tomorrow, she wasn’t going to wake him up in the middle of the night.
In the morning as Catherine walked the few blocks with Kingston and Rabinowitz to 47th Street, she looked up at the buildings and found it difficult to comprehend the scale. The streets were much wider than in London, and the buildings massively taller. She could see the huge Hemsley Building that sat across Park Avenue at East 46th Street and it seemed to block it completely, but as she got closer she could see two grand archways where the road went through the building. ‘How the hell did they get planning permission for that? You never saw that in London. Maybe you really could do almost anything in this town,’ she thought.
The Streets running east-west were much narrower than the Avenues running north-south, and 47th Street was no exception. The tall buildings either side of it just highlighted how straight 47th Street was. In fact, most of the Streets and Avenues were dead straight, again completely unlike London. The diamond district was full of retail stores of every description, jewellers, goldsmiths, diamond merchants, and pawnbrokers, but there was nothing subtle about them. Many of them had flashing bright neon signs in big lettering trying to attract customers, but in Catherine’s eyes, it just looked tacky. Rabinowitz could sense Catherine’s take on the gaudy nature of some of the shops and said,
“Don’t let the somewhat showy displays fool you. These businesses have some of the best diamond cutting operations in the world on the floors above. Let me show you.”
He led them into a diamond business where he obviously knew the owner well, and was on first name familiarity with him. After the introductions they took an elevator up to the 4th, 5th and 6th floors where they saw the diamond sorting, grading cutting and finishing steps similar to the Groots operation except that they had a few techniques that even Kingston had never seen before. Not only did they have the very latest Sarin 3D computer imaging and laser systems such that they could computer model the raw stones and then calculate the optimum laser cut lines similar to Groots, but they also used an ultrasonic technique to determine the invisible cleavage planes which normally wouldn’t show up until actual cutting was underway. Kingston took a note of the supplier of this equipment and was determined to follow up when he was back in London.
Rabinowitz did the same thing with several other diamond businesses as they walked along 47th Street, they would stop, Rabinowitz would talk to the owner, and they would have a quick tour of these other diamond operations. Each time Kingston learned something new, and Catherine was absorbing everything as fast as she could.
Finally, as they reached 6th Avenue, it was after 1pm, and Rabinowitz said he’d booked a table for lunch at La Grenouille, a French restaurant on E 52nd Street. They walked back to 5th Avenue with both Catherine and Kingston having gained a new respect for the gaudy 47th Street, and headed up to 52nd. As they walked up 5th Avenue, Rabinowitz told them that this was probably the best location to open an up-market Groots Signature Store, but slightly further up nearer Central Park. By the time they reached the restaurant, they had a lot to think about.
Over lunch Rabinowitz pulled out some notes on the research he’d done after Galinsky had called him. They covered the typical rental costs along 5th Avenue, and he showed the numbers to Kingston and Catherine shaking his head saying,
“I’m afraid I told you that the costs along 5th Avenue are very expensive.
Kingston and Catherine both looked at the numbers. They were costs per square foot per annum and Catherine didn’t know if the numbers were expensive or not, but Kingston knew. They were about double the rents for an equivalent place in London. Kingston considered for a moment then said,
“This is Catherine and Charlie’s call, but realistically, I think we have about two or three years before we would be ready to open a Signature Store in New York, so we have time to look around. The other option we could consider is to actually buy a property, or just buy the retail floor space at street level either now and rent it out, or buy it later.”
“I’d never considered that you might want to buy a property, because that would involve really big bucks,” Rabinowitz replied, slipping into Americanisms now that he was feeling relaxed talking with Kingston and Catherine.
“Why don’t you see if you could find any suitable properties for sale, maybe ones that are run down, or from bankrupt companies?”, Catherine suggested now trying to think like her husband.
“Okay, will do and I can think of a few places right now that are up for sale on 5th Avenue that we can walk past after lunch, but we are talking really big numbers now,” Rabinowitz replied now getting excited at the prospect of a big deal and maybe a big commission.
And after lunch, that’s what they did. They walked up 5th Avenue all the way to 59th Street at Central Park which Rabinowitz thought was about as far north as they would want a flagship Store, and then walked back down ten blocks on the other side of 5th Avenue to 49th Street looking for suitable locations all along the way. They found a few possibilities, where businesses didn’t appear to be booming, or where the shop fronts were badly in need of a make-over, and Rabinowitz said he would make further enquiries over the next week or so. Catherine then invited him to come to the Sotheby’s auction tomorrow as a guest of Groots, and he jumped at the opportunity.
The next day Catherine and Kingston had arranged to meet Rabinowitz at 11 at Sotheby’s so they could show him the diamonds up for auction, as well as the list of known people or companies that had bought catalogues and would be attending, or would be represented. The manager of Sotheby’s fine jewellery department, Alison Saxby, greeted them when they arrived and escorted them into her office. She was in her mid-fifties and tall and well dressed in a tailored dark suit and white blouse. Saxby knew they were coming, and had all the diamonds up for auction today laid out on a white cloth on her desk, along with two armed security guards standing watch over them. Saxby said,
“This really is a remarkable collection of diamonds, and I’m sure that there will be great interest in them today,” as she invited Kingston, Catherine and Rabinowitz to look for themselves. There were fifty-five diamonds in total up for auction, comprising mostly purplish pinks to purplish reds primarily in brilliant and radiant cuts. There were 36 diamonds between 4 and 5-carats, 15 between 5 and 6-carats, 2 between 6 and 7-carats, 1 of 8.5-carats, and the centrepiece was a magnificent deep red princess cut diamond of 10.5-carats.
“This is the largest sale of pink diamonds in the world, even surpassing our auction in London earlier in the year, and I expect the prices to reflect this,” Saxby continued.
“The smaller diamonds will be auctioned in batches, but the larger ones will be auctioned individually. So the auctioneer will commence with the smaller diamonds, and work upwards to the large 10.5-carat deep red, which we are all confident will set a record today.”
She smiled longingly at the large princess cut square diamond, with at least having the satisfaction of seeing such a diamond and holding it once in her life, even though she knew she could never own one. Kingston and Catherine had seen the diamonds in London, but were still impressed with seeing them again all laid out and sparkling under Saxby’s office lights. But Rabinowitz’s normally sophisticated demeanour had vanished and he was standing with his mouth open, with glazed eyes just staring at the deep red like a schoolboy in a sweet shop. Kingston had to call his name twice before he came back to reality, and he managed to say,
“Oh… excuse me, I was er… entranced, absolutely entranced.”
Kingston showed him the glossy auction catalogue, where each diamond was listed with its provenance, carat, colour, cut, clarity and reserve price. Saxby told them that the reserve prices were based on the auction sale in London earlier in the year, but she expected them to be greatly exceeded today.
They discussed who had bought catalogues, and would attend or be represented, and it was the who’s who of the diamond world as well as some unknown companies and agents who were obviously representing someone else. Hartog were notably not listed, but were probably being represented by others, which gave Kingston an uneasy feeling, so he said to Saxby,
“I assume that security for today is watertight?”
“Absolutely. We have 15 armed security guards in and around this building, and we have x-ray scanners for everyone entering the building, as well as a series of bullet proof doors to get through that can only be opened by a guard on the other side. The problem is once you leave this building, but I’m afraid that’s not Sotheby’s concern,” she bluntly stated.
Kingston was glad that it wasn’t his concern either. Saxby organised coffee and a light lunch which was brought into her office, and they talked about the diamonds, the likely buyers, the auction process, and then made a guess at the sale prices. Saxby and Rabinowitz were optimistic, but both Kingston and Catherine were more conservative. In the end they were all wrong.
At 1.30pm, Saxby suggested that they go down to the auction room, and the impassive security guards collected up the diamonds and disappeared. The auction room was impressive with wood panelling around the walls, and flamboyant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling with discreet spot lighting for the auctioneer. At the front of the room was a custom made black podium for the auctioneer with the word ‘Sotheby’s’ prominently written in white lettering on it. Next to the podium were two giant TV screens where blown-up images of the diamonds could be displayed, as well as the bids in various currencies. At one side of the room was a raised platform with a continuous plinth along the front of it, with 10 chairs and 10 phones. This was for the bids coming in by proxy. The room could hold about a hundred and fifty people and all the chairs had a catalogue placed on the seat of each one. At twenty to two, the potential bidders were allowed in and the room rapidly started to fill up. Saxby guided them over to one side of the room where they already had some reserved seats, and they sat down and waited with anticipation.
The auctioneer was a well-dressed, bespectacled man of about fifty who walked onto the podium a few minutes before two. He laid his notes out in front of him on the podium, and then looked around the almost full room catching the eye of one of his assistants who indicated there was just a minute to go. He flicked on some switches and the two TV screens lit up. One screen showed the latest bid in US Dollars, with the automatic conversions to Pounds Sterling, Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, and Hong Kong Dollars. They were all showing zero at the moment, but the other screen said in big lettering ‘Auction of the World’s Finest and Rarest Pink Diamonds’. The room was now completely full, with people standing at the back, and there was a sense of tension in the room as the auctioneer checked his microphone, and commenced the auction.
It took him nearly two hours to sell fifty-four pink diamonds for an astonishing US$44 million dollars, slowly building up the excitement and anticipation as the diamonds on offer became progressively larger and more spectacular. Finally, he came to the last diamond, Lot 880, the 10.5-carat, Princes cut, deep red. A large rotating image of it was showing on the TV screen sparkling under lights, and the actual stone was being held by a glamorous model standing next to the auctioneer. He began,
“Ladies and Gentlemen we come to the highlight of today’s auction, Lot 880 the 10.5-carat, deep red. This diamond is officially classified as “FL,” completely flawless by both the Gemological Institute of America, and by the International Gemological Institute which is extremely rare in itself. A deep red diamond is also an extreme rarity even amongst rare pink diamonds, and a flawless deep red of this size has never been for put up for sale before, anywhere in the world.”
The people in the seats sat up as high as they could, straining to get a better look, and the people manning the bank of phones were telling their remote clients to be ready. The auctioneer already knew who the most likely bidders would be, and where they were sitting, and just in case he missed any bids, his three assistants eyeing the room wouldn’t. And then he began his practiced art,
“So I can open the bidding for this sensational stone at 10 million dollars, that’s 10 million dollars, I can open the bidding at ten million, and eleven, at eleven million, at eleven, twelve, thirteen with me, fourteen thank you, fourteen million dollars now, at fourteen million dollars, fifteen, sixteen, at sixteen million then, seventeen million dollars I can sell it at seventeen million dollars, eighteen million on the phone now, nineteen at the front, at twenty million dollars on the phone, twenty million dollars then, twenty one million at the front, twenty two million new bidder, twenty two million dollars, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five million, twenty five million at the front, that’s twenty six million, twenty seven million, at twenty seven million dollars, twenty eight million, twenty nine million, twenty nine million five hundred thousand, thirty million thank you, thirty million dollars, its already a record bid, and five hundred, thirty million five hundred thousand, a world record price for a jewel at auction, at thirty million five hundred thousand …selling, …selling, …I’m selling, …sold!”
People spontaneously started clapping and talking, speculating who had bought the deep red. The auctioneer concluded by saying,
“Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen that concludes the auction for today, and Sotheby’s thanks you for making this a world record auction. Some refreshments are outside for your enjoyment,” and then he stepped down and walked off with his assistants and the model. The deep red had disappeared with the two impassive security guards as soon as the gavel had fallen.
Saxby had a big smile on her face, and so did Catherine, but both Kingston and Rabinowitz, who had been around diamonds all of their professional lives, were initially in a state of shock. The auction prices achieved were way, way above what they had anticipated, a total of US$74.5 million in just over two hours, astonishing. Saxby stirred them from their stupor by saying,
“Com’on time to celebrate,” and guided them out to the reception room outside where waiters were serving expensive French champagne. They walked past men and women talking animatedly about the auction, but they failed to notice two men staring at them. One had registered as a Mr Frank Christensen and the other as Mr Andreas Burkart both from a Dutch company no one had ever heard of.
Christensen said to Burkart,
“Those diamonds came from that fucker in Australia.” Burkart thought for a few seconds then replied,
“Robertson Mining. They must be up and running again. Bastards.” Christensen sneered,
“Yes, I remember. Well, maybe we should go and kill a few more of those fuckers,” and then started laughing along with Burkart as they both swilled down their champagne.
The Dutch company nobody had ever heard of, was registered in Liechtenstein, but the registration fees had been paid for with a cheque drawn on the Hartog Diamond Mining Company from South Africa. Christensen’s mother didn’t have a son called Frank Christensen, only one called Jan Kruger. Burkart’s mother didn’t know an Andreas Burkart, but had a son called Marius Botha.