The Top 10 Most Expensive Gifts of All Time
We’re often reminded “it’s better to give than to receive.” Here are a few examples where the getting may have been pretty good, too.
1. Raja Duleep Singh gives Queen Victoria the 186 carat Koh-i-noor diamond in 1849. Her consort Prince Albert has it cut down to a more brilliant 105ct three years later. Today it’s set in the Queen Mother’s crown. Once the largest diamond ever found, its value is inestimable. (By way of comparison, the 45ct Hope Diamond is said to be worth $250-$350m).
2. Already strapped after the Seven Years War, in the 1770s, France funds the American War of Independence to the tune of $20 billion in today’s money, directly leading to a major financial crisis and the French Revolution. This ‘gift’ of American freedom from British domination could be said to have cost King Louis XVI not only beaucoup livres, but his crown… and his head. (Later, the French give USA the not insignificant gift of the Statue of Liberty as a souvenir.)
3. In 1917, New York banker Morton Plank trades his $900,000 six-story Fifth Avenue mansion for a $1 million ($20 million in today’s dollars) pearl necklace from Cartier, a gift for his young wife. A few years later, Mikimoto’s cultured pearls cause values to crash, and the necklace sells for just $150K after Mrs Plank’s death in 1956. The Cartier NY flagship would today be worth hundreds of millions.
4. In 2003, Leonard Lauder gives $1.1 bn collection of Cubist masterpieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art donation of all time.
5. In 1972, competing against the Aga Khan and Aristotle Onassis amongst others, Richard Burton loses out on 68 carat diamond at auction, buys it from the winner (Cartier) the following day for $1 million – then the highest price ever for a publicly sold jewel and equivalent to some $6.6 million today – gives it to wife Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor sells it and donates the proceeds to charity in 1978.
6. Roman Abramovich buys wife Dasha Zhukova hundreds of millions of dollars in art over the course of their relationship to date, including a $14m Giacometti sculpture, a group of 40 paintings by Russian artist Ilya Kabakov (priced at $30-60m), and works by Francis Bacon ($86m) and Lucian Freud ($33m).
7. In 1632, Mughal ruler Shah Jahan spends the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s money building, over 22 years, the Taj Mahal as a ‘gift’ to his late wife. Also kills off a bunch of the craftsmen to ensure they’d never again create anything so glorious. Vastly expensive in terms of time, money and mortality.
8. After his brother Mukesh gifts wife Nina a $60m Airbus A319, billionaire Anil Ambani gives his wife Tina a 34m superyacht, named Tian, in 2008, reportedly spending $80m. (Double the usual million-per-metre cost of yachts, suggesting the Italian-built Custom Line boat must be pretty spectacularly kitted out.)
9. In 1908, gold-mining multimillionaire Thomas Walsh buys as a wedding present for his daughter Evalyn the 94 carat $120,000 Star of the East diamond from Cartier Paris. Three years later, again shopping at Cartier, Evalyn’s husband (Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean) buys her the Hope Diamond for $300K ($7.6 m today). She often wears the two together, sometimes placing the Hope on her hound’s collar during parties. Jeweler Harry Winston acquires both gems after Mrs McLean’s death, and is moved to gift the Hope nine years later, in 1958, to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where it remains. (It’s reportedly insured for $250m.) The Star of the East’s present ownership is unknown.
10. In 2016, Russian billionaire Mikhail Gutseriev spends an estimated $1 billion on his son Said's wedding, featuring performances by Jennifer Lopez, Sting and Enrique Iglesias, and a $1m Elie Saab couture wedding gown.
By Christian Barker. Originally published on Forbes.com