Saturday, July 9, 2011

Field Trip! Part VI - Grace Kelly at the Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Mystery Set
Sapphire and Diamond earrings
owned by Elizabeth Taylor.
Welcome to Part VI, Personalities.  This should be the last segment of our look at the Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, but there are so many interesting stories I may have to stretch it out to one or two more.  "Personalities" is the segment everyone loves the most because it looks at famous individuals who owned and wore some of the most beautiful jewelry ever made. But as Elizabeth Taylor once 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, "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 ever owns anything this beautiful. We are only the guardians.”

This is so true.  It's a testament to how pearls, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and other stones found naturally in the earth and sea, and the jewelry made from them, stand the test of time and live on, much longer than those who have temporary custody of them. Stones can be re-fashioned, re-cut, re-set, even re-turned so they can live on for others to enjoy.

While researching the personalities and their jewelry for this blog, I spent hours looking for videos and photographs of not only famous people and their VC&A jewelry, but the famous people wearing their famous VC&A jewelry.  I got lost while viewing You Tube videos (actual home movies in most cases) as if they were photos of my own children or family pictures from when I was a little girl.  The pictures and videos took me back to a nostalgic time when things were easier and life was better...or so it seemed, anyway. We are drawn to celebrities because their fantasy lives take us away from our mundane existence, and the way we read about them and follow their lives, we feel we know them well.  We have opinions about their spouses, children, clothes and more, and even grieve when they pass away - just like they were a member of our own families.  

Grace Kelly was one of those people.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, my home town as well, the Kelly family almost felt like one of the neighbors.  A trip to downtown Philadelphia with my father always included a "Kelly Mansion" drive-by.  In reality, the "Kelly Mansion" is much smaller than I remembered as a little girl, given the size of the mac-mansions that exist in suburban neighborhoods today.  Kelly, became a devoted VC&A client, but not until she married Prince Ranier III in 1956.  After their marriage, Ranier made VC&A the official jeweler of the Royal Family of Monaco.

Grace Kelly, wearing the wedding ensemble of naturally found pearls fashioned by Van Cleef & Arpels into a necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring.  If you remember my June pearl post, naturally found pearls, as opposed to cultured pearls, are extremely rare.  Cultured pearls started to replace natural pearls in jewelry starting in the late 1800's when Mikimoto perfected the cultured pearl process.  Prince Ranier III gave these pearls to Grace Kelly in 1956, the year they were married.  This suite is extremely valuable due to the size of the pearls used, as well as the number of pearls needed, in order to make a triple strand necklace and double strand bracelet...all made with perfectly matching natural pearls in size, color and luster.  

Grace Kelly temporarily owned 
one of the most beautiful tiaras ever to sit on a head.  
Today this tiara is in Van Cleef & Arpels’ Private Collection.

Princess Grace wore this diamond tiara only once, at the pre-wedding ball honoring her daughter Caroline and Philippe Junot in 1978.  It was made in platinum, set with pear-shaped diamonds, marquise-shaped diamonds and round diamonds, and weighed 77.34 carats.  That is a very heavy thing to wear on your head.  It is rumored she immediately resold the piece back to VC&A after the wedding.  I had no idea Grace churned jewelry...especially to VC&A.  I get hysterical thinking of Grace Kelly, the day after a big event, appearing sheepishly at the counter of VC&A, with a bag holding the tiara and the receipt, making up a story and trying to convince the salesperson why the tiara didn't work out.  Buying jewelry to wear to an event (usually to impress friends) is an annoying but common practice among some customers.  We know when customers are doing it but can't really stop them, however, we do fantasize about the piece getting lost or stolen...just to teach them a lesson.

Daisy Fellows
platinum, diamond and emerald
hooked together as a necklace.
Paris, France, 1926
Please take time to view this You Tube video.  Entertainment Tonight - 70's Style!  Sorry that it is another one in French but bear with it until 2:15 when you will see footage of Caroline's pre-wedding ball.  Grace invited many celebrities from her day including Ava Gardner, who has so much jewelry in her hair she looks like a Christmas tree, and Gregory Peck, looking awkward doing the Robot, then swinging Ava back and forth obviously trying to shake the jewelry out of her head.  Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo and her mother eye up Cary Grant in a very weird way, and, at 3:56, a woman wearing what could possibly be Daisy Fellows' diamond and emerald manchettes worn together as a necklace, followed by a woman in red wearing another amazing diamond necklace.  But the pièce de résistance is toward the end of the film where you will see Grace Kelly, gloriously celebrating her daughter's upcoming wedding, and looking beautiful wearing her diamond tiara, sparkling like her head was on fire.    

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