In the world of auctions, where rarity and prestige converge, an elite class of items have always captured the attention of collectors and connoisseurs alike. These extraordinary pieces, adorned with opulence and steeped in history, have commanded staggering prices, setting records and grabbing headlines. From exquisite jewellery to iconic fashion accessories, the realm of high-end auctions unveils a world where the extraordinary becomes tangible.
In a remarkable auction held this week, a Louis Vuitton-inspired miniature handbag created by Brooklyn-based art collective MSCHF fetched an astonishing price of over $63,000. This unique neon-green purse is so minute that it requires a microscope to be visible, measuring a mere 657 by 222 by 700 micrometers, or less than .03 inches across.
Crafted using a specialised 3D printing technique called two-photon polymerisation, typically utilised for producing mechanical biotech structures, this tiny handbag showcases the creativity and innovation of the art collective.
The unidentified buyer not only acquired the minuscule handbag but also received a microscope and a built-in digital display for enhanced viewing. Intriguing photos of the bag reveal a prominent Louis Vuitton LV logo, reminiscent of the company’s OnTheGo style handbags, which ordinarily retail for thousands of dollars at their regular size.
The sale of this microscopic fashion statement not only underscored the intersection of art and technology but also highlighted the willingness of collectors to invest in obscure and unconventional pieces.
Ahead, we embark on a journey through time and luxury to explore the most expensive items ever sold in auctions over the years.
The Himalaya Birkin
In 2017, a rare Hermès Himalaya Birkin handbag was sold at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong for a staggering $380,000. This matte white bag is made from Himalayan crocodile skin and features a diamond-encrusted white-gold buckle and hardware, making it one of the most expensive handbags ever sold.
The Moon Shoes
In 2019, a pair of Nike ‘Moon Shoes’ set a new world record for the most expensive sneakers ever sold at auction. These handmade shoes were designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman for the 1972 Olympic Trials. The pair was sold for $437,500 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York to Canadian collector and businessman Miles Nadal.
The Pink Star Diamond
In October last year, Sotheby’s Hong Kong witnessed a groundbreaking auction as the illustrious 11.15-carat Williamson Pink Star diamond fetched an astounding sum of approximately $57.7 million, factoring in the auction premium. This unprecedented sale shattered the previous auction record, boasting a per carat price exceeding $5 million. Remarkably, it claimed the title of the second most valuable jewel or gemstone ever sold at auction.
Previously, the auction record for a fancy vivid pink diamond on a per carat basis stood at $2,656,909, set by the Winston Pink Legacy weighing 18.96 carats in 2018. Bearing the name of the Williamson Mine in Tanzania, where it was discovered, the diamond draws its identity from one of the oldest active diamond mines globally. This mine is renowned for producing exceptional “bubblegum pink” diamonds, as described by the auction house.
Among the mine’s notable treasures, the 23.6-carat Williamson Pink Diamond holds a prominent place. Exquisitely fashioned into a brooch by the esteemed brand Cartier, it graced the ownership of none other than Queen Elizabeth II, adding to its allure and historical significance.
Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 Moon Jacket
In a remarkable auction at Sotheby’s, the jacket worn by Buzz Aldrin during his historic first mission to the moon in 1969 has fetched a staggering price of nearly $2.8 million. The sale unfolded in a brief but intense 10-minute bidding war, ultimately won by a fortunate bidder. This iconic jacket features Aldrin’s name tag positioned above the Apollo 11 mission emblem and is crafted from a distinctive fire-resistant material. The auction’s outcome exemplifies the enduring value and significance of this historic artefact, forever connecting it to humanity’s remarkable journey to the moon.
Adolf Hitler’s Watch
In a highly contentious auction held by a Maryland-based auction house, a wristwatch once owned by Adolf Hitler, featuring his initials and a swastika, was sold for $1.1 million. Despite its estimated value of $2 million to $4 million and being described as a “World War II relic of historic proportions” by Alexander Historical Auctions, the sale sparked controversy.
Jewish leaders and community members expressed strong disagreement, asserting that the watch held no historical significance. They openly criticised the auction, deeming it “abhorrent” and signed an open letter urging for the removal of the watch from the sale. However, the president of the auction house, Bill Panagopulos, defended the auction by highlighting that the buyer was a European Jew.
Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Subway Dress’
Marilyn Monroe’s famous ‘Subway Dress’ stands as an iconic symbol of the 20th century and ranks among the most exorbitantly priced auction items ever sold. Created by designer William Travilla in 1955 for the film The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder, this ivory pleated dress carries profound cultural significance.
Imprinted in our collective memory, the dress evokes the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe poised above a subway grate, her skirt billowing in the wind, and possessing the original dress was an unparalleled distinction.
Once owned by actress Debbie Reynolds, renowned for her role in Singin’ in the Rain, the dress epitomises the fashion aesthetic prevalent in 1950s and 1960s Hollywood. It features a halter-like bodice and a daring neckline, embodying the timeless allure of Monroe herself. Interestingly, Monroe’s then-husband, Joe DiMaggio, reportedly held a strong dislike for the dress.
In 2011, Reynolds made the decision to part ways with the dress, which had taken on an ecru hue due to the passage of time. Initially estimated to sell for $1-2 million, the gown surpassed all expectations during the Beverly Hills auction. The winning bid soared to an astonishing $5,500,000, solidifying the dress’s status as not only the most expensive piece of clothing ever sold at an auction but also one of the most prized auction items as of 2023.
Marie Antoinette’s Pendant
Boasting a drop-shaped natural pearl, the pendant garnered significant attention when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva in 2018. Presented as an extraordinary opportunity, this exquisite piece was hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition.
Originally part of a collection of 10 precious items belonging to Queen Marie Antoinette, some of which had remained unseen by the public for two centuries, the pendant rightfully claims its place among the most valuable auctioned items as of 2023.
Marie Antoinette, the final Queen of France before the French Revolution, was married to King Louis XVI. Tragically, both monarchs met their fate during the tumultuous uprising of the 18th century, which marked the downfall of the extravagant French monarchy.
In an effort to safeguard her cherished belongings during the revolution, Marie Antoinette discreetly passed some of her most treasured possessions to her relatives.
The pendant, a poignant relic of the queen’s legacy, commanded an astounding price of $36 million at Sotheby’s auction, exemplifying its exceptional historical significance and undeniable allure.