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“It’s gorgeous,” said Marilyn Monroe when first gazing upon the Moon of Baroda; not a heavenly body to match her own, but a diamond, a rare 24.04-carat canary yellow gem pulled from the legendary Golconda mine, outside Hyderabad, in 16th-century India.
Monroe was on a publicity tour for her breakout 1953 comedy Gentleman Prefer Blondes with its unforgettable song, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” when the Moon of Baroda became her best friend, on loan from Meyer Jewelry Company in Detroit. And this week Angelenos will get a chance to see just how gorgeous it is when the jewel goes on display in Christie’s showroom, Oct. 16-20, before being auctioned off Nov. 27 at the Magnificent Jewels Hong Kong Sale.
Hard evidence of the stone’s early history is nonexistent but it is believed that before the Moon of Baroda cast its spell on Monroe, it was among the vast collection of the Gaekwads of Baroda, princes of one of India’s most ancient and powerful ruling families. It was later gifted to Maria Theresa of Austria, the Habsburg Dynasty’s only female monarch, but was returned to the Gaekwads after her death in 1780. In 1860, it was fitted to a necklace and later sold to an unknown buyer, eventually landing in the collection of Prince Ramachandra, who brought it to the U.S. in 1926 and later exhibited it in L.A. during the Easter Fashion Festival of 1942.
Two years later it was sold to Samuel H. Deutsch, a diamond cutter and jewelry manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio, who a few years later sold it to Meyer Rosenbaum, president of the Meyer Jewelry Company in Detroit. Rosenbaum loaned it to the legendary actor for publicity purposes surrounding Howard Hawks’ classic comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, co-starring Jane Russell, and photos of Monroe wearing it went viral.
“It wasn’t until recently that we got introduced to the owner of the stone,” Christie’s Asia’s Connie Luk tells The Hollywood Reporter about how the auction house wooed the anonymous seller. “We paid him a visit almost every year to ask him if he’s interested in selling, and we were quite persistent. And finally, this year he said yes to us.”
With the stone in hand, Christie’s took it to Gemological Institute of America for authentication and confirmed its provenance from the 3,000-year-old Indian mine that produced such stones as the Hope Diamond and many of the gems in the British Crown jewels. The pear-shape cut is unique for a diamond from the 16th century, adding to its value and emphasizing the unusual yellow color caused by an elevated level of nitrogen.
In 1990, Christie’s New York City sold the stone for $297,000, but the current owner estimates its value between $500,000 and $750,000. “It’s really hard to give an estimate to such a legendary and historical stone. We give the estimate based on the market price of a 24-carat yellow diamond. We believe that the historical value will add to the price,” says Luk.
What won’t add to its price is a rumored curse alleging that if the gem travels overseas, bad luck will come to its owner. Its 19th century stint in Austria ended with the death of Maria Theresa, and others claim that Monroe’s fortunes took a southward turn after wearing it in 1953, when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes launched her to stardom.
“People love a story,” notes Luk. “I think it’s just a rumor, cause as far as we know, the current owner of the stone, it has been in his hands for more than two decades and he’s doing very well and he’s in good shape and great financial condition. So, I don’t think there’s such a thing as the curse of the diamond.”
Monroe seems to be in season this autumn, with the Essentially Marilyn auction coming up Dec. 11 (exhibiting at the Paley Center through Oct. 28), featuring some of her outfits from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as well as an audio copy of Monroe singing “Down Boy,” a number that was dropped from the film before it was shot. There’s also the famous skirt she wore standing over the subway grate in The Seven-Year Itch, annotated screenplays, letters and notes like the one she wrote to Fox executive Ben Lyon thanking him for coming up with her stage name.
Alongside the Moon of Baroda at Christie’s will be a photo of Monroe wearing the stone. “It reminds me of the old Hollywood glamor,” says Luk. “Given the size and color of the stone I feel that everyone will find it very gorgeous. I think Marilyn Monroe is down to earth. She doesn’t have an amazing collection of jewelry. Even a down-to-earth girl will appreciate the stone. It’s quite something.”
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