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An impressive natural pearl necklace. Designed as a double row of graduating natural pearls, measuring 5.8-12.8mm. in diameter, to a polished bar clasp, length of shortest row 39.0cm. Sold for £311,200 inclusive of Buyer's Premium. Photo courtesy Bonhams

Bonhams' London jewellery department has had their most successful year ever. The recent sale, The Art of Jewels: Fine Jewellery and Iconic Gems, proved the enduring attraction of rare and beautiful jewelled items, despite the economic downturn. The sale achieved £2.2 million and was dominated by private buyers (71%) seeking the perfect Christmas gift or simply collecting objects of outstanding beauty.

The top lot was a natural pearl necklace which once belonged to Lady Houston, the renowned philanthropist and benefactor, which achieved a remarkable £311,200 against an estimate of £30,000 - 50,000. The impressive double-row necklace with graduated pearls was made up of large natural pearls of outstanding quality between 5.8-12.8mm.

The sale price can be accounted for by both the quality of the necklace, but also the significance of their erstwhile owner, Lady Houston, who donated a considerable amount of her personal fortune in support of British aviation which would eventually lead to the design of the Spitfire, an integral part of our national defence during WW2.

Other highlights included a brilliant-cut diamond, 5.01cts, D colour, loupe clean clarity, which sold for £180,000. Another diamond, a fancy intense yellow radiant-cut diamond, 9.12cts, internally flawless, sold for £120,000.

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A diamond single-stone ring. The brilliant-cut diamond, weighing 5.01 carats, within a six-claw setting, ring size N½, cased. Sold for £180,000 inclusive of Buyer's Premium. Photo courtesy Bonhams

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A fancy-coloured diamond single-stone ring. The fancy-coloured radiant-cut diamond, weighing 9.12 carats, between shield-shaped diamond shoulders, ring size P½, cased. Sold for £120,000 inclusive of Buyer's Premium. Photo courtesy Bonhams

A rare art deco black lacquer and diamond bangle, by Cartier, sold for £96,000 from an estimate of £20,000 – 25,000.

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A rare art deco black lacquer bangle, by Cartier, circa 1935. Sold for £96,000 inclusive of Buyer's Premium. Photo courtesy Bonhams

Jean Ghika, Director of UK and Europe at Bonhams Jewellery department commented: "These excellent sale results are a fitting conclusion to an exceptional year in which Bonhams has achieved the position of pre-eminence in the UK jewellery auction market for 2009. The strong prices achieved demonstrate just how buoyant the market is for natural pearls and period jewels that are fresh to the market. 71% of our buyers were private customers and our most valuable lots were bought by private individuals".