Buddha carved in stone

Given the spiritual powers attributed to gemstones over the centuries, it’s not surprising that – faced with a particularly juicy chunk of gem material – lapidaries often turn to Buddha for inspiration.

There’s a Buddha coming up for sale at Christie’s Geneva next month, carved from morganite in the shop of Jean Lombard, once official jeweler to Queen Frederica of Greece & King Farauk of Egypt. Not your average smiling Buddha, and definitely not of the jolly, laughing variety, this Buddha wears a wry smile you don’t see too often. He may have found serenity but I’d say he took a few trips around the block first.

Morganite Buddha on nephrite base by Jean Lombard, est. $27-37k at Christie's Geneva, November 2012 (Christie's Images)

He also has a sparkle in his eyes, literally, the kind that comes from diamonds and sapphires. Until he closed up shop in 1983, Jean Lombard, creator of this eccentric Buddha, had the following motto inscribed there: “Le dernier rampart de la joie de vivre.” I think that says it all.

Less sardonic and quite a bit bigger, this Buddha weighs 4.65 tons, carved from gem-quality nephrite jade boulder found at the Polar Jade mine in northwestern British Columbia. Towering more than 8 feet high, it’s the largest gemstone Buddha in the world, making for a pretty unwieldy world tour since 2009.

Buddha carved in Thailand from a 20-ton jade boulder from British Columbia on display in Miami in 2010

That one is estimated at $5 million but this one (below) may be one of the most expensive for its size. Made in 1900, this Fabergé Buddha of bowenite with articulated limbs was in the collection of Christina Onassis. At least, it was being called a Buddha at the time of the sale (2008) but is technically a magot or grotesque figure who appears to be meditating, possibly levitating, while sticking his ruby tongue out at us. It sold at Christie’s London for $2,487,929.

Fabergé magot carved from bowenite and set with rubies and diamonds (11x12 cm) sold for $2.5 million at Christie's London in 2008 (Christie's Images)

And now for a really decadent Buddha (with serious man breasts). Carved from coral in Firenze, this one lounges under a gold palm tree on an emerald-set chased gold base, part of a mid-20th century Verdura set that sold at Sotheby’s New York last month for $43,750. Yes, the dog is wearing a pearl and diamond collar. This was multi-millionairess Brooke Astor’s idea of Asian serenity:

Set of coral carvings by Verdura, collection of Brooke Astor, sold for $43,750 at Sotheby's New York in September 2012

Okay, this Buddha (below) may be even more over the top. He actually looks a little grumpy, possibly at the weight of the diamonds, rubies and emeralds on his shoulders. This was what Van Cleef & Arpels decided to do with this beautiful coral carving in 1927, two years before the market crashed:

Meditating Buddha brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, c. 1927, from The Spirit of Beauty exhibition

I leave you with the unadorned serenity of a reclining Buddha, in the Southeast Asian tradition, double-sided and carved from green chrysoprase:

Reclining Buddha carved from green chrysoprase (Bonhams)

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