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A ruby-and-diamond bracelet that legendary star Marlene Dietrich commissioned from Van Cleef & Arpels in 1937 and wore to the Academy Awards in 1951 is headed to the auction block. It will be offered as part of Christie’s upcoming June 7 sale in New York, titled “The Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower.”
Eisenhower — an interior designer who died last year and was a granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower — was also privately a collector of many pieces of exceptional jewelry, from a Panthère de Cartier brooch to a Tiffany and Co. Art Deco diamond bracelet on which a rose is depicted by rubies and emeralds. Both are included in the auction, which has a total of 31 lots.
But it’s Dietrich’s bracelet, which Eisenhower anonymously purchased at auction in 1992, that is the undisputed star of the sale as well as the lot with the highest estimate — $2.5 million to $4.5 million.
“This bracelet is legendary in a lot of ways,” says Claibourne Poindexter, vp and jewelry specialist at Christie’s. “It was one of [Dietrich’s] favorite pieces of jewelry. It’s bold. It’s very large in scale and has a wonderful curvature. She wore it so beautifully in Stage Fright, an Alfred Hitchcock film from 1950, and you get this appreciation for how sculptural the design is. It doesn’t really fit into any period. It’s not art deco jewelry. It’s not retro jewelry. It’s just sort of high glamour. It really is its own work of art.”
Perhaps what led to such a unique creation is the curious genesis of its material. According to Dietrich’s grandson Peter Riva (who spoke to The New York Times at the time of the bracelet’s sale in 1992), it was All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque, a lover of Dietrich’s, who suggested to the star that “she take all her bits of jewelry and make them into one fabulous piece. It is made up of diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, matching ruby bracelet and earrings, a couple of pins, all told 30 things.”
The resulting piece — designed by Louis Arpels and known as a Jarretière bracelet (from the French word for garter) — includes cushion-shaped Burmese rubies (which have never been heated) and round, single, rectangular and baguette-cut diamonds, all set in platinum. It is accompanied by a Mark Cross leather case bearing the initials M.D. When the bracelet sold in 1992, it went for $990,000, more than double the presale estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
The New York Times has described Dietrich’s Jarretiere piece as a “modernist platinum cuff” featuring “an exaggerated, asymmetrical loop covered in cushion-cut rubies set atop twin buckle-like bands of … diamonds.” Within the jewelry world, the bracelet is iconic enough that Van Cleef & Arpels, which features a look at the piece on its website, went so far as to create and release a new bracelet inspired by the original in 2021.
Throughout her lifetime, Dietrich had a love for jewels, especially statement-making ones. Some were gifted to her by the men in her life, such as Maurice Chevalier, Josef von Sternberg and Jean Gabin.
Other baubles, such as a suite of emeralds, had origins that even her daughter, Maria Riva, could not surmise. As Riva wrote of the emeralds in Marlene Dietrich, her 1992 biography of her mother, “They were ‘mysterious’ jewels. Their acquired origin unknown. … While they were part of our life, they reigned sublime. They became like my younger sisters — I had charge of them. Their safety and well-being were my responsibility. They lived in a brown leather case, the size of my mother’s gramophone and about as heavy. Each piece was perfection.”
But toward the end of her life, those emeralds were no longer in her possession, nor were most of the jewels she had so cherished. Peter Riva, in his interview with the Times, said that his grandmother’s Jarretière bracelet “was the only piece of jewelry that she kept. She also loved her emeralds, but she lost them, probably to the I.R.S. for back taxes. She hung on to the ruby bracelet through good and bad times.”
Since 1992, Dietrich’s bracelet has had only one other owner, Eisenhower. Within months, it will likely have a third.
“From Marlene Dietrich to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Anne Eisenhower Collection traces the history of the last century through a single collector’s brilliant passion for fine jewels,” said Christie’s Americas chairman Marc Porter in a statement. “Anne Eisenhower had a keen eye for the finest examples of the jeweler’s art, and her collection tells fascinating and interwoven stories of patrons and collectors.”
Highlights from the “Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower” sale will be previewed at the Christie’s Los Angeles gallery in Beverly Hills on March 23. Additional showings will be held in Paris, Geneva and Hong Kong before the June 7 auction.
Scroll on for additional photos of jewelry pieces from the upcoming auction:
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