When you hear the name Andy Warhol, you think Campbell’s Soup Cans and pop art. Most of us don’t think of fine jewelry, much less an extensive collection that rivaled the most well known of socialites and actresses (Marlene Dietrich, we’re looking at you).
But Mr. Warhol was indeed quite the collector. He never wore the pieces that we’re aware of, but he did discuss jewelry in a few notable quotes. “When I am in Rome I always visit Bulgari, because it is the most important museum of contemporary art,” Warhol once said. And on yet another occasion he was overheard saying, “It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger.” Andy recorded his musings on jewelry in his infamous Diaries and in conversations published in Interview magazine, but it was a total surprise when upon his death, his obsession (and there was enough there to warrant the use of the term) was discovered.
When Andy died, his Townhouse and estate were thoroughly cataloged and much of the contents auctioned off. At that point, the executor, his business manager, Mr. Frederick W. Hughes, and the curators working through the estate found jewelry in safe deposit boxes and in a safe in Mr. Warhol’s home. Most of the contents of the house had already been removed. But it wasn’t until two large flat files were being removed from the house that the real stash was found.
Curators had gone through the flat files many times before. Works by other artists had been removed, examined, catalogued, and then included in the auction. Andy’s own artwork, which had been excluded from the sale, had been reordered, protected, and replaced in the drawers. But on a Sunday afternoon, as the cabinets were being dismantled to carry them down from the 5th floor, curators were stunned when the two flat files, stacked one on top of another, were moved and an entire secret stash of jewels was found in the space between the two pieces of furniture. A perfect hiding place – no one would think to look under one cabinet (which is also the space on top of the other).
The compartment was filled with sachets with dozens of unmounted gemstones, designer jewelry and watches – some in paper bags, some in jewelers’ boxes and plastic bags, some lying loose. Immediately Mr. Hughes was summoned to the home and so began another journey, leading to a second auction entitled The Andy Warhol Collection Jewelry and Watches, Part II. There were amazing pieces that were auctioned off, many of which are pictured here in photos taken of the auction catalog. But one stands out above the rest and the mystery around how Andy came to have it in his possession continues to this day.
The designer of a blue enamel heart covered in a scribble of diamonds and wrapped up in a gold ribbon cuff was not identified in the original jewelry catalogue. However, when the piece came up for auction again in December of 2018, this time at Christie’s, the team saw the maker’s mark of Charles Profilet for René Boivin. In an article for The Adventurine, the province was discussed. “It was originally owned by one of the great jewelry collectors of the twentieth century, Millicent Rogers. The diamond scribble on the front of the jewel is in fact her initials. Boivin’s designer Juliette Moutard is most likely the person behind the creation that was commissioned for Rogers by her third husband Ronald Balcom in 1939. While there are no extant pictures of the socialite wearing the jewel, much has been made about the fact that it reflects the Standard Oil Heiress’s taste for big heart designs.”
Why did Andy choose to hide some of his most valuable jewels between two flat files? Maybe he didn’t trust the banks (his mother had not). Maybe he wanted them close by so he could visit with them often. Or maybe he just loved a good secret. He was Andy Warhol, after all.
Which piece in the collection is your favorite? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.