Fugitive diamantaire Nirav's asset auction sees record prices for artworks

The auction opened with artworks by masters going under the hammer
Forty lots of fine art by masters, luxury watches, purses and bags, and a Rolls-Royce Ghost — confiscated from the estate of diamond tycoon Nirav Modi — garnered Rs 51.40 crore during an auction by Saffronart in Mumbai on Thursday. 

Nirav Modi is accused of fraudulently appropriating billions from Punjab National Bank and is currently in a jail in London. Saffronart’s Spring Live Auction, conducted on behalf of the Enforcement Directorate, saw 100 per cent sell-out with an unexpected new market opening up for watches and handbags.

Auctioneer Dinesh Vazirani, founder of Saffronart, kicked off the evening by informing the audience that the auction prices would be subject to a buyer’s premium, plus a lower goods and services tax (GST) of 12 per cent as opposed to the normal 20 per cent. 

The auction opened with artworks by masters going under the hammer. Highlights included an untitled 1992 Manjit Bawa that was sold for Rs 6.1 crore beating reserve estimates; a 1972 MF Husain titled Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12 for Rs 12 crore; a work by V S Gaitonde for Rs 9.5 crore, and the high-value piece for the evening — a 1935 Amrita Sher-Gil titled Boys with Lemons— that went for a record Rs 14 crore. 


The auction had been postponed by a week earlier on the basis of objections filed by Nirav’s lawyer but were overturned. Ashvin Rajagopalan, director of Piramal Art Museum who was present at the auction, said the prices for the established masters such as Husain, Sher-Gil, and Bawa were “a very strong sign that collectors trust art as an investment.”

Many first-timers were excited by the watches and bags went up and saw active bidding for them, he said. In fact, the handbags, which included Hermes Kelly models, saw tens of bids made for it and ended up selling for final prices of as much as three times more than estimates at around Rs 15 lakh.

Another smaller gold and diamond bag by Van Cleef & Arpels, pegged at Rs 6 lakh, went for close to Rs 20 lakh, more than what the price would have been even if the whole bag was made of gold.

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