Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ooh! Shiny!

~Imaginary interview~

Barbara Walters: What is your very favorite color?

It's no secret that I love jewelry and pretty things.  My favorite streets are in New York. A stroll down Fifth Avenue between 59th and 50th (La Vielle Russie, Bergdorf Goodman, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany and Co., Harry Winston, Cartier, Asprey), and up Madison Avenue from 57th to 79th (talk to me, Fred Leighton!), make me really happy. Also, the auction houses are very exciting. Even the catalogues make me swoon.

I come by this naturally. When I was five, I found a pair of beautiful black stilettos with rhinestone encrusted heels in my Mother's closet. Something possessed me. (It wasn't the shoes). With not a thought, I took a bobby pin and plucked the rhinestones out. As I held them in my tiny palm, I stared in wonder, breathless...

When I was a teenager, I had a poster on my wall, (actually an ad) of a beautiful young woman sitting cross legged. It said, "Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, and she shall have music wherever she goes".  Hmmm. An old English nursery rhyme on a Madison Avenue advertisement. An omen.

My first boyfriend gave me my first diamond. He bought it in Amsterdam.

My first Cartier ring and jewels were from my first husband. Fred Leighton made the headpiece for my wedding.

Over the years, there were more. They came (and sometimes went) for various reasons. Sometimes I bought them myself, needing no one to show me the the magic of prismatic light, spun gold or gossamer wings. All beauty held beauty, in those wonderful things.

It's no mistake that one of my favorite writers is Anita Loos, the witty creator of Lorelei Lee, that lovable creature played by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I own her first printing of that book.

My favorite diamonds are original Asscher cuts, by the Asscher Brothers in Holland, from the early 20th Century.

Some of the the most fun places to see these are at the aforementioned Harry Winston, Tiffany, Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier and Fred Leighton in New York.

Don't worry, they let mortals in. 

I once arrived in New York from Heathrow, having had a luggage strap fly off and break off my front tooth. The airline then lost my luggage. But, I was in New York, and in the mood to shop. I bought a somewhat hideous I love N.Y. The Big Apple t-shirt from the hotel lobby, and went down Fifth Avenue wearing the same  jeans and sneakers from my flight, no makeup, nothing but a toothless smile. (But, I had a wallet!) Walked into Harry Winston, and they couldn't have been kinder. I looked like toothless hick, but not one person made me uncomfortable. Naturally, the sight of those diamonds cheered me up.

Diamonds are truly a miracle, when you consider how they started.

From Wikipedia-

"Most natural diamonds are formed at high-pressure high-temperature conditions existing at depths of 140 to 190 kilometers (87 to 120 mi) in the Earth mantle. Carbon-containing minerals provide the carbon source, and the growth occurs over periods from 1 billion to 3.3 billion years (25% to 75% of the age of the Earth). Diamonds are brought close to the Earth surface through deep volcanic eruptions by a magma, which cools into igneous rocks known as kimberlites and lamproites."

Amazing, isn't it? But, back to recent civilization.

One of the most famous collectors of grand gems and jewelry was Elizabeth Taylor.

 The Elizabeth Taylor diamond, a 33.19-carat Asscher-cut set in platinum

                                                    Taylor diamond side view

I understand Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor, and their love of this incredible art form. It marries rare pieces of nature with skilled artisans. I envy anyone who was lucky enough to go to the auctions of either of these collections. (Elizabeth Taylor actually bought one of her pieces, The Prince of Wales brooch, (seen below),  from the Duchess of Windsor's estate auction via telephone bid to Sotheby's). The catalogs alone from, either Christie's (Elizabeth Taylor) or Sotheby's (Duchess of Windsor), are mesmerizing to those who love jewels.

In her owns words, from "My Love Affair With Jewelry",  Elizabeth Taylor said,

“I’m fortunate to have some very important pieces of jewelry. I don’t believe I own any of the pieces. I believe that I am their custodian, here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.” She also wrote, “As I look at some of my jewels I realize what a very lucky girl I am. Sometimes I wonder what will become of everything, because just like the Duchess of Windsor’s collection, they will all be up for auction one day. They will be scattered to the four corners of the world, and I hope that whoever buys each piece loves it as much as I do and takes care of it and realizes that having jewelry is a temporary gift. In truth, we ‘owners’ are just the caretakers. Nobody owns beautiful paintings. Nobody ever owns anything this beautiful. We are only the guardians.”
What a cool Dame.

One does not need to be rich to appreciate the beauty and workmanship of these pieces. You can look online. Go crazy on Google. Occasionally the catalogs go up for auction on eBay. There are also countless books on the subject from Amazon, or you can often find them at your library. Search any of the above names.  Also, look at "Extraordinary Jewels", and "The Faberge Case", by John Traina. Fantastic.

This is a post about diamonds and other elements and minerals, but I appreciate all kinds of lovely things, whether it's a beautiful stone, or the face of a animal, whose eyes transcend all material things with their grace and truth. A waterfall can humble anyone, if they take the time to really look. I like bright stars on a dark night as much as I like diamonds. They both equally wondrous to me. I'm awestruck by both.

But, back to that five year old, picking "diamonds" out of her Mother's high heels- as I said, I came by it naturally...

A few years ago, I was shooting on location in Wyoming. I sat on a rock, chin on my hands, gazing up at the Grand Tetons and their spectacular glory. But I wasn't thinking about them.

I was dreaming of the 7th floor of Bergdorf's.  Oops.

Back to the beautiful now...

Here are some more dreamy things. Their owners and provinence are listed below the photographs. Enjoy!

Elizabeth Taylor-The Taj Mahal, ruby-and-gold chain by Cartier, 1972, from Richard Burton


Faberge Easter egg, 1898. The Lilies of the Valley Egg. The egg is covered in pearls and topped with pink enamel. The egg is supported by cabriole legs of green-gold leaves with rose diamond dewdrops. The gold-stemmed lilies have green enameled leaves and pearl flowers. Made of gold, rubies, pearls. 

Armand Hammer had a very good understanding (and collection) of these babies.

Duchess of Windsor- When a desperate Marie Antoinette found herself imprisoned in the convent of the Feuillants in the midst of the French Revolution in 1792, she surreptitiously proffered a bag of pearls and diamonds to her friend Lady Sutherland, the wife of the British ambassador to France. No doubt anticipating a return to her sumptuous lifestyle once the masses had settled down, the Queen reportedly entrusted Sutherland with the gems after realizing that the British aristocrat had diplomatic immunity and could therefore return the jewelry once the Queen had escaped. Fast-forward about 50 years, and the pearls, 33 loose slate gray natural pearls- each imbued with a misty gray shade and some in a rare teardrop shape- are set in and suspended from a diamond and ruby collar in 1849. 

Wallace got the King, later the Duke, to fork over a heavy chunk of the Royal jewels before the Palace put an end to it.

Again, Wallis Simpson. The then King- George VIII-  received the above single-strand necklace from his mother, Queen Mary; he gave it to the then 40-year-old American divorcĂ©e, for whom he abdicated the throne to marry. The pendant, a Cartier piece, followed in 1950.

Elizabeth Taylor. The Night of the Iguana brooch, by Schlumberger, Tiffany & Co., 1964, gift from Richard Burton


Wallis/Edward W/E 20th Anniversary brooch- Cartier, for the Duchess of Windsor

Cartier cross bracelet for Wallis Simpson from King Edward VIII

The Prince of Wales brooch c.1935. Plume shaped brooch for the Duchess of Windsor by Cartier, later purchased at auction by Elizabeth Taylor for $663,000+


Elizabeth Taylor.  La Peregrina, a natural-pearl necklace with cultured pearls, diamonds, and rubies, 16th century, gift from Richard Burton.  Cartier. 

And finally, in the world of unreal wealth, let's remember who holds all the cards in the bling game.

1953. The coronation of the new Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in a solid gold carriage, wearing an Empire's fortune of all things shiny.

Ta Ta! Don't mess with the Boss!