Record-Setting Sale of Sapphire Contributes to Endowment for Historic James J. Hill House

For immediate release

Release dated: 
April 26, 2007

Record-Setting Sale of Sapphire Contributes to Endowment for Historic James J. Hill House

April 27, 2007 - Proceeds from the record-breaking sale of a 22.66-carat sapphire for $3.06 million at Christie’s New York this week will support an endowment fund for the historic James J. Hill House in St. Paul. After commissions and fees owed by the buyer and seller are paid to the auction house, the Minnesota Historical Society, which operates the Hill House, will receive approximately $2.6 million.

The sapphire - originally part of a sapphire and diamond necklace given by “Empire Builder” James J. Hill to his wife Mary in 1886 - was given to the Society in 2006 as a bequest from a descendant of the Hills. It is among the largest donations ever received by the Society.

“This magnificent gift brings us much closer to our goal of $5 million for the Hill House endowment,” says Minnesota Historical Society Director Nina Archabal. “We are thrilled that the proceeds from the endowment will serve as an ongoing source of income, enabling us to continue to preserve and tell the important stories of this National Historic Landmark.”

The sale of the cushion-shaped Kashmir sapphire set two world auction records: top sale price and record price per carat ($135,000) for a sapphire. Christie’s New York originally estimated the stone would sell for approximately $250,000 to $350,000. The record-breaking price reflects the stone’s rarity and beauty, as well as its carefully documented history. It was part of an auction that “marks a turning point in the jewelry world where original design, rarity and provenance prove to be just as important as the quality of a gem,” notes Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas.

Background on the Hill sapphire
The sapphire pendant was purchased by James J. Hill on Dec. 24, 1886, and incorporated into a sapphire and diamond necklace that included 18 smaller sapphires and 18 diamonds. Sometime between 1919 and 1921, the necklace was disassembled and the jewels were given to the Hills’ six daughters. In 2006, the sapphire pendant was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society for the benefit of the James J. Hill House.

The Christie’s sale catalog described the pendant in this way: “The Kashmir sapphire conjures up only one image in a collector’s mind: its unrivaled, magnificent blue color. This mesmerizing stone of significant size is perhaps one of the most important sapphires currently on the market and is unsurpassed in richness and life.”

Background on James J. Hill and the James J. Hill House
A great figure of America’s Gilded Age, James J. Hill (1838-1916) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as the builder of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railways, he was involved in banking, agriculture, copper and iron-ore mining, and the timber, milling and shipping industries. Along with gems and jewelry, Hill also collected art and rare books.

The massive, stone James J. Hill House features 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 chandeliers, a 100-foot reception hall and a two-story, skylit art gallery. “The costs of maintaining a historic property like the Hill House are immense,” says Craig Johnson, site manager, “and are only matched by the importance of preserving such an architectural treasure for future generations.”

Once the largest private residence in Minnesota, the home is open for tours year-round Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended and group tours may be arranged for other days and hours. The house may be rented for meetings, dinners and receptions. The James J. Hill House is located at 240 Summit Ave., St. Paul. For more information visit or call 651-297-7555.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849 to preserve and share Minnesota history. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.