MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Philippine government is appraising the dazzling jewelry collection seized three decades ago from Imelda Marcos, the former first lady famous for her massive stash of shoes, as it decides what to do with the jewels one expert compared to those owned by royalty.
The jewelry was seized when dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii in 1986 following a popular revolt that ended his two decades in power. The pieces include a barrel-shaped diamond worth at least $5 million and a Cartier diamond tiara that's likely multiple times more valuable than the previous estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.
The Marcos family allegedly amassed billions of dollars' worth of ill-gotten wealth, and the dictator's widow, now 86 and a member of Congress, became known for excesses, symbolized by her huge shoe collection and staggering jewelry.
The jewelry collection, comprising three sets seized in various locations, was valued at $5 million to $7 million when it was last appraised in 1988 and 1991.
But it is likely to have significantly risen in value, Andrew de Castro, of the presidential commission tasked to recover the wealth, said Tuesday.
The collection is being appraised by Christies and Sotheby's auction houses this week before the government decides whether to auction it, he said, calling the collection a physical manifestation of excesses during the Marcos regime while many Filipinos suffered in poverty.
Putting the jewelry in a museum or an exhibit has been suggested. The jewels have been stored in a vault at the Philippine central bank for nearly 30 years.
"If I didn't know where the collection came from, I would probably say it could have come from a royal person," said David Warren, who headed a Christie's auction house team that inspected the jewelry. He said the extensive collection includes very rare and exceptional pieces.
A 25-carat Indian pink diamond probably cut in the 18th century and worth at least $5 million was newly discovered to be part of the collection. It was previously listed as crystal and may have not been shown to appraisers, Warren said. Marcos' briolette-cut or barrel-shaped pink diamond is from India's famous Golconda region, which produced rare finds like the Hope Diamond and a 500-carat diamond that is part of the British crown jewels.
Pink diamonds are very rare. Warren said a 16-carat vivid pink diamond was sold by Christie's this month in Geneva for $28.5 million.
The provenance of the jewelry could radically increase prices should the pieces be auctioned, Warren said.
Jewelry pieces held up for photographers Tuesday by customs employees who removed them from plastic wrappings included various necklaces with diamonds ranging from the size of corn kernels to fat almonds, strung together like a lei of mini chandeliers.