Marlene Dietrich came by her jewelry obsession honestly. The German-born actress’ mother came from a well-heeled family that had owned a jewelry store in Berlin’s Unter den Linden neighborhood – a very fashionable area. Marlene learned early on that jewelry purchased from the best retailers would not only hold its value, it would end up proving invaluable in her life.
Ms. Dietrich was literally the epitome of Old Hollywood glamour. She was famous for her starring roles as much as her great style and eventually, her jewelry collection. Much of what she had in her jewelry box was by special order from renowned jewelers including Paul Flato, Fulco di Verdura, Mauboussin and Van Cleef & Arpels.
It didn’t hurt that she had friends with good taste. Erich Maria Remarque, a companion of hers in the mid-1930s, suggested at one point that Marlene combine all of her smaller jewels together and make them into one statement piece. And what a statement piece it turned out to be. Diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, a matching ruby bracelet and earrings, and several other pieces were taken apart and reconstructed into an iconic bracelet – a three-dimensional ruby and diamond Jarretière cuff bracelet made by Van Cleef & Arpels. The bracelet became a part of her every day life and even her craft. She wore it in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright in 1950.
But that wasn’t her only outstanding piece of jewelry. She had several pieces that were considered iconic and legendary, including two emerald bracelets that were as breathtaking as the Jarretière cuff. One was a bracelet by Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, set with a 127-carat cabochon emerald. Another was a second emerald bracelet, this one by Flato with round cabochon in that jewel could be snapped into a ring. These two found their way into her films, including Desire, in which Dietrich played a perfectly attired jewel thief. Life imitating art or the other way around?
On more than one occasion her jewels saved her from financial ruin. In 1939, Dietrich was boarding the Normandieto to sail to Paris when IRS agents presented the actress with a bill for back taxes in the amount of $248,000. The agents seized and rummaged through her 34 pieces of luggage, scooping up pieces containing diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds valued anywhere between $100,000 to $400,000. The agents and her lawyer negotiated for quite some time and after much arguing, Dietrich and her family were finally allowed to board the ship and her jewels were placed in escrow to guarantee the taxes upon her return.
Sadly, that wouldn’t be the last time that her jewels came to her financial rescue. In 1987, at the age of 86, the actress sold eight items at auction with Christie’s because she needed the money more than the jewels. Sadly, according to her grandson, at her death in 1992, the only piece of jewelry that remained in her collection was the original iconic VCA ruby bracelet. But even that no longer remains with the family. It was sold later that year at Sotheby’s New York for a staggering $990,000 as part of her estate. The bracelet is now in an anonymous private collection.
It’s sad when these pieces, once treasured by a beloved star are divided up. If you could have had any one piece, which piece would you have chosen? Tell me in the comments below.