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Esmerian Tries to Stop Auction of Jewelry Lot

The jewelry sale set for Tuesday at Christie's in New York has the potential to be the auction house's most profitable ever — that is, if the sale takes place.

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Ralph Esmerian

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The jewelry sale set for Tuesday at Christie's in New York has the potential to be the auction house's most profitable ever — that is, if the sale takes place.

The auction, dubbed "Rare Jewels and Gemstones The Eye of a Connoisseur," doesn't name a consignor, but attorney Helen Davis Chaitman of Phillips Nizer LLP said the 115-piece lot of jewelry and objets d'art belongs to her client, Ralph Esmerian.

Esmerian, a fourth-generation family jeweler and art collector, acquired Fred Leighton in 2006 in cooperation with lending partner Global Asset Based Finance Group, a division of Merrill Lynch. He has found himself in the middle of legal troubles since January. Merrill Lynch is seeking the $183.3 million it lent to Esmerian, who has paid $10 million on the loan. Esmerian fought in New York Supreme Court last month not to liquidate his "Special Collection," so he could sell it privately for more. Esmerian had the collection appraised by an outside jewelry expert, who valued it at $89.15 million. The head of Christie's jewelry department, Rahul Kadakia, estimated the collection is worth $35 million.

On Wednesday, Chaitman, attorney for Esmerian, applied for a stay to stop the auction in the appellate division. Justice Helen Freedman of the New York Supreme Court denied a previous request for a stay on April 4. Chaitman said they would have an answer from the court today.

The sale is to take place Tuesday evening in Christie's' 49th Street headquarters. François Curiel, chairman of Christie's Europe and head of jewelry for the auction house, and Kadakia are slated to be the auctioneers of the lot.

"We applied for a stay to stop the auction because we think it's a disgrace," Chaitman said.

Howard R. Hawkins Jr. of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, who is representing Merrill Lynch in the ongoing case, declined to comment. A representative from Christie's declined to comment, as well.

An elaborate catalogue is circulating featuring mostly scaled-to-life pictures of jewelry ranging from a Cartier Mystery Clock that is anticipated to bring in $500,000 to $700,000, to the Empress Eugenie Brooch by François Kramer that is covered in rose-cut and old-mine-cut diamonds and is projected to bring in $4 million to $6 million. There is also an extremely rare 14.23-carat fancy intense pink diamond that is estimated to fetch $10 million to $15 million.
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