It's story time! After a loooooong Parisian break, we're back with a new book soon to be released and written by our longtime friend and estate jewelry maven Beth Bernstein – "If These Jewels Could Talk – The Legends Behind Celebrity Gems". Let's put it this way: if digging through and trying on jewelry isn't an option, at least give us the juice behind all the pieces and show us pretty pictures. And Beth delivers, letting us mere mortals in on the backstories to some of the silver screen's and royalty's most famous jewels and the private collections of the ladies (and gentlemen) who wore them. We're super excited that we got a sneak peek of the entire book, and we asked Beth to answer some questions we had (because we're nosy like that). Onward!
So many good stories in your newest book! Which one is your personal favorite and why?
This is such a difficult question for me: I definitely have more than one personal favorite. I am a complete sentimental sap and also a huge movie geek so many fall under both categories – the sentimental jewelry and the story behind the jewelry worn in films.
My favorite collection, and hopefully this is not cliché, is The Duchess of Windsor’s. The jewelry she wore told of the Duke and Duchess’ entire love story — with the secret codes and messages as well as some of the motifs. One of my favorite pieces is a charm by Cartier that she actually wore on a Van Cleef & Arpels charm bracelet. It was a heart charm that had the inscription “The Heart Has It’s Reasons”, a famous Blaise Pascal quote that then became the title of The Duchess of Windsor’s memoir.
But I'll also tell one more about Merle Oberon seeing an incredible emerald Cartier necklace and having to think about it, and when she went back past the shop it was no longer in the window – someone else was reportedly trying it on and that someone else was Elsa Schiaparelli. Oberon was so dejected because she thought that the necklace was sold. But her husband at the time, Harold Korda, went back and found it wasn’t and purchased it for her. And that was quite an emerald necklace.
We are suckers for a great colored gemstone engagement ring, and they seem to be back in vogue. What are a few from history we should know about?
The first ring Prince Rainier purchased for Grace Kelly was not the huge emerald-cut flawless diamond we know but a simple ruby and diamond eternity band. When he found out that most Hollywood actresses received large diamonds for engagements, he went out and purchased her the second ring. Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe also wore eternity bands as their engagement rings – Audrey’s was from Mel Ferrer and Marilyn’s was from Joe DiMaggio.
Star and cabochon Sapphires were such a rage from Mary Pickford’s Star of Bombay, which now resides in the Smithsonian, to Joan Crawford’s sapphire engagement rings. But of all the sapphire stories engagement ring stories, I love that one of my favorite actors of the time with brilliant comedic timing – William Powell – had three leading ladies who wore sapphire engagement rings on and off screen. He was married to Carol Lombard for a while and purchased her a star sapphire (they remained friends after the divorce and she wore it when they played opposite each other in “My Man Godfrey”). Powell reportedly purchased a diamond ring for Jean Harlow and she requested a sapphire instead. She got one – a honking star sapphire that she also wore in her last film. Myrna Loy, Powell’s leading lady in the “Thin Man” series of films as well as two others, was given a star sapphire engagement ring by her husband. That ring is now owned by Neil Lane. It’s interesting that some credit Princess Diana for bringing back sapphires, which she did, much later on, but they date back way before her time as trendsetting engagement rings.
And if you are thinking about an emerald engagement ring, who better to aspire to than two jewelry and style icons: The Duchess of Windsor and Jackie Kennedy.
Now that everyone borrows their jewelry, some stories like these seem to be few and far between. Any current-day celebs that are investing in gems and metals?
The stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood not only wore their own jewels on the red carpet but also in films. Marlene Dietrich wore her famed emeralds by Paul Flato and Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin and her Van Cleef & Arpels ruby Jarretière bracelet in films. Elizabeth Taylor, Merle Oberon, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford and many others were happy to purchase and wear their jewels on and off screen. Unfortunately this is less of an occurrence these days, and yes, few and far between. Many of the engagement rings today are commissioned or collaborations – such as those created by Neil Lane for Emily Blunt, The Simpson sisters and a host of other young stars. Beyonce went to Lorraine Schwartz, as did Kim Kardashian: twice.
But in addition to the rings, actresses like Meg Tilly are buying at auction. She's a true collector and purchased pieces from both Elizabeth Taylor's and Ellen Barkin’s auctions. Debra Messing grew up surrounded by jewelry and is a major jewelry fan as is Sarah Jessica Parker, who owns signed pieces like Verdura Maltese cuffs and pieces from emerging designers.
Trust us, there's a lot more to read in Beth's book, now available for pre-order on Amazon. Happy Columbus Day, friends!