The Fatimid rock crystal ewer that sold under estimate at Christie’s Arts of the Islamic and Indian World sale.

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The 12in (31cm) high mounted ewer emerged as a sleeper in a sale at Lawrence's auction rooms in Crewkerne in January and its recent convoluted history has already been much discussed - click here for more.

Christie's were offering it for sale with an unpublished guideline in excess of £3m, but pre-sale interest was such that immediately before the sale they were confidently talking of it exceeding that level, while speculation in the trade was that it could make double that figure or more.

On the day, however, when bidding opened at £2.4m, there was silence from the room and the phones.

In the tense moments that followed, auctioneer William Robinson looked hopefully at the audience, at Isabelle de la Bruyere, director of Christie's Middle East, who was manning one phone line, and at Anthony Phillips, international director of silver, who was relaying proceedings to another client, asking if they wished to bid.

But with no response it looked as if the piece might go unsold before a bid came from the back of the crowded room.

And there it stayed, with the much-discussed objet de luxe hammered down at £2.8m.

The bidder in the room was Richard de Unger bidding on behalf of the private trust known as The Keir Collection. When ATG spoke to him briefly immediately afterwards, he seemed as surprised at the outcome as the rest of the room.

William Robinson conceded last week that he was surprised and bemused by the result given the pre-sale interest, but noted that psychology and theatre is always a feature of auctions.

"It still made a serious amount of money," he said, pointing out that the price is "the third highest ever at auction for an Islamic work of art".

By Anne Crane