The Most Expensive Items Ever Sold Through Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s is one of the most famous brokers in the world. The company was founded in Britain but its headquarters are now located in New York City. Sotheby’s is known for its expensive auction items and for being a purveyor of some of the finest pieces of art and jewelry in the world. The company boasts assets over $2.8 billion. It’s one of the most lucrative auction houses in the world, and has broken numerous records in terms of items sold. Read on to find out which items have been sold through Sotheby’s that top the charts in terms of excess and expense.

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Double Eagle Gold Coin – $7.9 million

When this gold coin was sold in 2002 at a Sotheby’s auction to a private buyer, it went down in history as the world’s most expensive gold coin. It was sold for a substantial $7.9 million. This expensive piece is only one of two coins like this, and the other is part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian. Made in 1933, the coin is valued at $20 and it features two sides with a double eagle. The private buyer’s name has never been released, but it’s thought that he or she might sell the coin later on for a significantly higher sum.

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birds of america

Birds of America – $10 million

This is the rarest and most expensive book ever sold at auction. Sotheby’s sold this treasured book for an astounding $10 million. The book, written by James Audubon, is rare. There are allegedly only 118 of this book in the world and reportedly only 10 that are privately owned and not in place in museums or historical collections. This makes being a private owner of one of these books a very rare and lucrative investment. This book was one of the 10 privately owned books to go for sale, though there hasn’t been any discussion of seeing another one for auction in the near future.

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Patek Philippe Watch – $11 million

This watch is one of the most expensive ever to sell at Sotheby’s. When it was sold the first time, it fetched $11 million 1999. The news today is that the watch is being put back on the auction block at Sotheby’s again in November, and it’s being sold for as much as $17 million this time according to new estimates of its value. The watch was specially made for a banker by the name of Henry Graves Jr. back in 1933 and has been one of the world’s most expensive watches to date.

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sun drop diamond

Sun Drop Diamond – $12.3 million

It’s not the most expensive diamond ever sold at a Sotheby’s auction, but it is one of the pricier diamonds sold here. In 2011, a bidder offered to pay $12.3 million for the diamond over the phone. The flawless diamond is shaped like a tear drop and is approximately 110 carats. It is one of the largest diamonds auctioned at that time, as well as one of the rarest. This gorgeous diamond is a flawless shade of deep yellow. This makes it a rare diamond. While yellow is not the rarest color in terms of diamonds, it is not as common.

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Emerald and Diamond Tiara – $12.3 million

Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, Prince of Germany, had this tiara specially made for his (second) wife sometime around 1900. The tiara has approximately 500 carats of diamonds on it. Each of the polished 11 emeralds is shaped like a pair and sits above hundreds of much smaller diamonds. The item was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2011 and is currently in the possession of an anonymous bidder. However, it’s one of the most expensive pieces ever to sell at the auction house. If it should ever appear for auction again, it’s expected to fetch much more.

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wallis simpson bracelet

Wallis Simpson Panther Bracelet – $12.4 million

Not only is this gorgeous bracelet one of the most expensive items ever to sell at Sotheby’s, it’s also the owner of a truly great story. Wallis Simpson was alleged to have begun her love affair with her third husband, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, when she was still married to her second. The Prince abdicated the throne to marry Simpson, as it was frowned upon that a royal would marry a woman with so many ex-husbands. This piece belonged to her, and it’s made of onyx and diamonds.

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ruyao washer

Ruyao Washer – $26.6 million

This is a Song ceramic that was created by a craftsman personally chosen by a long ago foreign emperor. The bowl, as it really is, is shaped like a flower and is worth many millions of dollars. When the auction house auctioned this particular piece, they expected to receive several million dollars for it, but they never expected to receive what they did. The bowl is estimated to have been created with a high temperature kiln more than 900 years ago, making it a very rare and very exotic artifact.

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Met Highlights 01-1 White Court Roman Bearded Hercules, Aphrodite, Artemis and the Stag, Young Hercules

Artemis and the Stag – $28.6 million

Made entirely of bronze, this statue is more than 2,000 years old and dates back to long ago Roman ancestry. It was discovered in 1920. The statue depicts Artemis, the goddess of hunting, shooting an arrow from a box and standing with her stag. Unfortunately, the bow and arrow are missing. They were never discovered in the ruins in which the statue was discovered nearly 100 years ago. When this item sold at Sotheby’s, it was sold for more than $28.6 million, making this rare piece one of the most expensive items ever to sell.

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Cathedral Square – $37 million

This incredible work by Gerhard Richter is his most expensive work to date. The piece sold at Sotheby’s in May 2013 for a staggering $37 million. The work depicts the streets of Milan many years ago, with a beautiful view of a lovely street, pedestrians enjoying the day and cars whizzing by. The work was expected to sell for several million. However, the final price was far more than what was expected of the work, which made it one of the most expensive pieces of art to sell.

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The Graff Pink Diamond – $46.2 million

This gorgeous diamond, which was set in a band featuring several smaller clear diamonds when it was sold by Sotheby’s back in 2011, is one of the most expensive pieces of jewelry ever to sell at auction. The diamond weighs in at more than 24-carats, and its rare pink color makes it even more valuable and expensive. It’s a cornered, rectangular cut diamond that is a shade of perfect pink. It was once owned by world renowned jewelry designer Harry Winston, but it is now owned by Lawrence Graff, another famous jeweler. He took it upon himself to rename this diamond.

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george dyer

George Dyer Photos – $45 million

Francis Bacon was in love with a man by the name of George Dyer. In 1964, three portraits of Dyer were drawn and they reached an all time high for this kind of art work at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014. The three pieces of art belong together as a group. They were sold together for $45 million to a private bidder that called into the auction house to purchase the pieces. It was a record night for Sotheby’s at a contemporary art auction, and it brought in more than half of the earnings for the night.

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duchess of windsor

Duchess of Windsor’s Jewels – $50.3 million

There was a time in which Sotheby’s offered a collection of the Duchess of Windsor’s private jewels for sale for $50.3 million. The collection included several of her most prized pieces, all of which were commissioned expressly for her from her third husband, the Duke of Windsor. The total sum of the pieces was $50.3 million, but each piece sold individually for many millions. Some of the buyers of this particular collection included Elizabeth Taylor and Lawrence Graff.

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pink diamond

Pink Star – $83.2 million

In November 2013, Sotheby’s sold a pink diamond set in a platinum band for a staggering price that far exceeds the price of the pink diamond purchased only 3 years before by Lawrence Graff at a Sotheby’s auction. The Pink Star is a diamond that is cut like an oval and weighs in at approximately 59.6-carats. It is a flawless pink diamond, and it is exceptionally rare. The price was expected to be exceptionally high, but even the auction house was surprised when an unknown bidder offered this much money for the diamond.

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L’Homme qui marche I – $104.3 million

Translated, this means the walking man. Made entirely of bronze, this six-foot plus sculpture was created sometime in 1961 by a world renowned artist. Alberto Giacometti created the walking man during his lifetime, and it was one of the most expensive pieces of artwork ever sold at Sotheby’s. The sculpture was initially offered to buyers for a relatively affordable – in Sotheby’s terms – $27 million. However, the final price at the auction saw the large sculpture go for more than $104 million, making it the most expensive sculpture ever sold at the house.

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Scream – $119.9 million

When Edvard Munch finished his work, “The Scream,” he likely had no idea that long after his death the painting would become the most expensive ever sold at auction. When Sotheby’s began the bidding on this particular painting in 2012, the auction was set at $40 million. Some art collectors and experts felt the painting would fetch somewhere around $80 million. However, it was much more than that by the time the auction ended nearly 12 minutes after it began. The painting sold for a final price of $119.9 million and change to a bidder over the phone.

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Written by Tiffany Raiford

Tiffany Raiford is a lifelong Floridian, wife to my high school sweetheart and mother of four littles (two girls and boy/girl, they are not identical and yes, I'm sure). My kids love to whine, so I love to wine. My loves include nap time, bed time, date night, travel and evenings and weekends when my husband is home because he handles all diaper changes.