When I wrote for the FT one of my favourite assignments was always to indulge in a diamond day: having the opportunity to handle exceptional gemstones destined for the finger or ear lobe of of the imaginary Middle Eastern Princess my editor and I christened Shaykah Yourassa. I can distinctly recall a coloured diamond necklace set by the Great Graff that fluttered like a butterfly around the £40 million mark. Be still my beating heart and twitching fingers.
My passion for gemstones is currently simmering (could be a new Thames & Hudson book?) but is warming up considerably thanks to the column I’ve been commissioned to write by World Gold Council. This is all thanks to La Farmer. So to Sotheby’s last week for the press preview of jewels being sold by the lovely, legendary Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida. Now I hadn’t seen La Lollo in the press since she made a surprising cameo as one of Liza Minnelli’s bridesmaids when she married No 4 David Guest. GL popped-up recently with a rather bizarre news story apropos a man young enough to be Gina’s grandson claimed he had married her by proxy. It all sounded terribly Liliane Bettencourt and might have a bearing on the sale.
Suffice to say Gina Lollobrigida was by all accounts a beauty with brains. She was a star of the Cinecittá studio in Rome in the early 50s when the notorious lothario Howard Hughes tried to lure her to Hollywood with jewels and promises. Feminists take note, she refused and resolved to buy her own jewellery and make her own way to LA. I’m not a huge fan of La Lolla’s oeuvre though must admit she was sinuous in Solomon & Sheba, aerodynamic in Trapeze and seductive in None So Few. But what an eye for important jewellery.
The star lot of the sale is a pair of natural pearl and diamond pendant earrings with provenance linked to the Habsburg dynasty and an upper estimate of $1 million. But for sheer spectacle you’d have to come down in favour of a diamond necklace set by Bulgari in 1954 that breaks into a pair of handsome bracelets and was worn as a tiara by La Lollo with luscious locks swept into a chignon. This piece will far exceed the $1 million mark when provenance, artistry and adaptability are brought to bear.
Of course the Elizabeth Taylor sale of Legendary Jewels at Christie’s in 2011 casts a long shadow breaking auction records and bringing home nearly £116 million for 80 of the most exceptional pieces. It’s all about timing isn’t it? God only knows what the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels would realise if they were sold today rather than 1987 when the market was giddy but not quite as famished for historic gemstones as it is now. Still, La Lollo had more classical taste than the Great Dame and her emerald pieces will surely please connoisseurs and will doubtless attract the interest of LVMH-owned Bulgari who is restocking its war chest of heritage pieces.
Most intriguing when researching Gina Lollobrigida was the judgement by her peers that she was ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. Even my favourite blonde Marilyn Monroe told her in 1955 that ‘here, they call me the American Lollobrigida’. Not to denigrate Marilyn but a sensational early death does do wonders for how history rates one. I believe Elizabeth Taylor thought much the same thing. Marilyn’s last hurrah was wiping Elizabeth Taylor off the cover of fan magazines by posing nude on the set of her last uncompleted film Something’s Got To Give while ET was filming Cleopatra and breaking records (again!) as the first actress to earn $1 million per picture.
The meeting of MM and GL is the stuff of screenplays. I recall Bonnie Greer writing a play about the relationship between Marilyn and Ella Fitzgerald. Marilyn was a great supporter of Ella in the years of racial segregation when the singer couldn’t get a booking at LA club the Mocambo. Marilyn called the owner of the Mocambo and said that if Ella performed then she would take a ringside seat every night of the booking. As Ella said, ‘I owe a real debt to Marilyn Monroe’. It was repaid. When Marilyn was found dead in her Brentwood bungalow in 1962 she had been playing the records of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
I do find the past a rewarding place to dwell don’t you? It’s been a criticism from various sources of late to which I can only reply the dead are SO much more interesting than what’s being said and done today. Take Lady Thatcher’s funeral tomorrow. I can barely believe that so many people who wouldn’t know Churchill the politician from the nodding dog of advertising fame are making the case that Lady Ts funeral is in some way inappropriate. Silencing the chimes of the great bell within Big Ben is entirely right to honour a politician who respected the powers of the Palace of Westminster.
I would very much like to pay my respects tomorrow and watch the funeral cortege pass by Fleet Street. Whether this is possible depends on how quickly I knock off the interviews and photographs lined up for my St James’s book project. As for the loony left contingent with shrivelled hearts and ugly shoes, I hope the police hose them down should they try to disrupt what is in effect a state occasion. Why line the funeral route and turn your back when you can simply show your disrespect by staying away? Staying away is always a maxim I live by when an individual or institution disappoints. Until next time…