When you’re the wife of one of America’s best loved composers, it’s expected you’ll have a few pieces of lovely jewelry. But what happens when you’re a wealthy woman in your own right? You buy your own amazing jewelry AND let your husband by you amazing jewelry. Linda Lee Porter did.
Born Linda Belle Lee in Louisville in 1884, she married early (at age 17), to a wealthy man, Edward Russel Thomas, who would later abuse her mentally and physically. They lived lavishly with houses in Palm Beach, Manhattan and Newport, however, the marriage ended in divorce in 1912 and Thomas offered Linda one million dollars in exchange for her silence about the abuse she suffered at his hands.
Linda left the states and headed to Paris where it was at a wedding reception there, at the Hotel Ritz Paris, that she met Cole Porter, in January of 1918. We don’t know much about their courtship but we do know they were married, with no family in attendance, at city hall in Paris (in the 18th arrondissement) on December 18, 1919.
Theirs was an unconventional marriage. It’s worth the time spent down the rabbit hole to read about their life together. It’s hard to say when Cole let Linda in on the secret that he was gay, but judging from their close 34 year marriage and his absolute despair after she died, one would assume she knew and was ok with it. But we’re not here to talk about their life together. We’re here to talk about the jewels!
Given that both came from significant families, Cole eventually matched his wife in worth but initially it took an inheritance to do so. But then his musical career took off. They lived the high life, entertaining the likes of Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Jimmy Stewart. Each spring for a number of years, they headed to Venice and spent the summers there entertaining. And you can not entertain in Venice unadorned.
Linda had a flair for design and asked Cartier to create several pieces for her that are outstanding. And then there’s the iconic “Belt Buckle” aquamarine and ruby necklace by Paul Flato. Described by many as the most important piece of American jewelry, it now belongs to actress Jennifer Tilly. And yet still, let’s also not forget the King Tut inspired pieces, at least one of which contains actually Egyptian artifacts. When money is really no object, the world is your oyster, I suppose.
While theirs was an unconventional marriage, who’s to say what works and what doesn’t? But the jewelry on the other hand, that we can say was outstanding!