Marlene Dietrich’s Dazzling Van Cleef & Arpels Bracelet Goes Up For Auction
During Hollywood’s Golden Age, many of the screen sirens wore their own jewels in film, whether self-purchased or received as a gift. Marlene Dietrich was one of the great collectors of this period who wore many of her most important jewels in publicity shots and her movies.
“Glamour,” Marlene Dietrich once observed, “is assurance. It is a kind of knowing that you are all right in every way, mentally and physically and in appearance, and that, whatever the occasion or the situation, you are equal to it.” And throughout her life, Dietrich was, and it showed in her acting as well as her taste in jewels.
Yet, of all the many jewels Dietrich owned and wore on and off screen, the Van Cleef & Arpels three-dimensional Jarretière cuff bracelet (c.1937) created the greatest allure.
The ruby and diamond Jarretière bracelet is being auctioned at Christie’s in New York on June 7 in the single owner sale. The Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower who was an interior designer and the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
She purchased the jewel the first time it went up for sale in 1992 when Dietrich’s estate went under the hammer. The bracelet sold far more than the estimate at Sotheby’s for $990,000.
The estimate for the bracelet today is $2,500,000-$4,500,000.
But let’s go back to when and how the dynamic and dazzling jewel was made, how and where Dietrich wore it, and the sentimental meaning uncovered before the first auction sale.
In my book If These Jewels Could Talk (ACC Artbooks 2015), I wrote about the bracelet and showed photos of Dietrich wearing it in real life and the Hitchcock film Stage Fright.
In 1937, the bracelet was created from a selection of Dietrich’s own gems, including seventy-three rubies and 141 diamonds and became one of Dietrich’s most cherished pieces. The actress was good friends with Louis Arpels. He and Dietrich’s then-lover Erich Maria Remarque worked on a slight redesign of the original Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet. Dietrich’s version of the cuff was more oversized and had more flowing lines than the Jarretière bracelet of sapphires and diamonds that The Duke of Windsor gave to Wallis Simpson on their wedding day—(an apropos gift as Jarretière means garter in French). It features a large loop motif set with cushion-shaped rubies; the reverse of the loop is a pavé-set diamond petal motif accented with baguette-cut diamonds. The articulated band of the cuff is set with round and baguette-cut diamonds. It is considered a masterpiece of 1930s design.
Dietrich wore her bracelet often to different events and in publicity stills, but the 1950 Hitchcock film Stage Fright created the most buzz. In the film, she plays Charlotte Inwood, a manipulative star of musicals who convinces her lover to murder her husband. The bracelet forms part of her character’s strong persona. In one scene in which ‘Inwood’ is talking to the police, you can see her clasp it to her wrist. Towards the end of the film, she tries to bribe her maid by offering her jewels.
Later in her life, Dietrich sold off some of her jewels to help her out in difficult situations—such as to pay back taxes in 1987. Aged eighty-six, the actress sold eight items at Christie’s for $81,500. When she passed away five years later, her grandson Peter Riva observed that the Jarretière bracelet was the only piece of jewelry she kept. Although it was her favorite piece, after she wore it in Stage Fright she kept it locked away in a vault until the Sotheby’s 1992 sale.
At the time of that sale, it was said to have gone to an anonymous private collector. It has reappeared in The Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower. Christie’s has launched a global tour of the collection before it goes up for sale in New York on June 7, 2023.
Daphne Lingon, Head of Jewelry Department, Christie’s Americas says, “Christie’s is truly honored to be entrusted with the Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower, a woman who led an extraordinary life of taste, style and philanthropy while remaining true to her values.”
The collection’s “star lot” represents all one could hope for in a jewel —history, provenance, screen presence, a revolutionary design and an actress and jewelry house that share enduring iconic and legendary status.