Russian billionaire pays $4.1M for James Watson’s
Nobel Prize, so he can return it to the seller —
The Nobel was awarded to Dr. Watson, now 86, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, which revealed how genetic traits are transmitted through heredity.
The buyer, Alisher Usmanov, who lives in Moscow, announced through the London public relations firm Finsbury that he was the anonymous telephone bidder who paid $4.1 million for the gold medal on Thursday at a Christie’s auction, or $4.76 million including the commission. Christie’s said the bid was a record for a Nobel sold at auction.
Forbes lists Mr. Usmanov, 61, as the richest man in Russia, with a net worth of $15.8 billion from steel and mining, telecom and investments. He also was an early investor in Facebook and is a part owner of the London soccer club Arsenal.
In a statement, Mr. Usmanov indicated that he was distressed that Dr. Watson was selling the medal in order to give much of the proceeds to charity, and he wanted to fulfill the scientist’s charitable impulse without forcing him to give up the physical manifestation of his prize.
“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable,” Mr. Usmanov said. “James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him.”
Mr. Usmanov had contacted Dr. Watson before the auction, offering to give him a cash gift to give to charity if he would call off the auction, a spokesman for Dr. Watson, David Kass, said Tuesday. But the molecular biologist, geneticist and zoologist wanted to see how it would play out, Mr. Kass said.
The auction brought in more than Mr. Usmanov’s original offer, Mr. Kass said. “Obviously he’s overjoyed to be getting it back,” he said of Dr. Watson. “He’s humbled by it.”
The scientist, who lives in a house at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, where he is chancellor emeritus, said before the auction that one of his motivations for selling the medal for charity was to restore some of his reputation. He said he had become an outcast in the scientific community after he was quoted in 2007 questioning the intelligence of black people, remarks he apologized for.
Mr. Usmanov said his father had died of cancer, so he valued Dr. Watson’s contributions to cancer research.
“It is important for me that the money that I spent on this medal will go to supporting scientific research,” he said, “and the medal will stay with the person who deserved it.”
The New York Times News Service