Well, that’s novel…

As the nights have drawn in, the rain’s got more frequent, and the temperature has dropped, the Goblin and I have spent a lot of time in a sofa nest, reading and drinking mulled wine. It’s great. I am truly living my best adult life.

Source: gfycat.com

After finishing our History degrees, we’d been firmly stuck on non-fiction books for the last few years, but clearly 2018 required some escapism, and recently we’ve been all about the fiction!

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Because I can never quite switch off work mode, I started thinking about the three best novels I’ve read featuring jewellery or gemstones as a key plot point… Here are my recommendations for your own sofa nest reading material:

1. The Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman

Although this book is technically aimed at a young adult audience, it’s one of the few books from my childhood that has lived up to my memory on rereading, which is saying something, because ya girl had some questionable literary taste! (One word: Twilight…)

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(c) Scholastic

Set in Victorian-era London, The Ruby in the Smoke tells the story of Sally Lockhart, a young women who gets drawn into the dangerous mystery of a stolen ruby following her father’s death. It’s tightly-plotted, well-written, and features a ton of opium – what’s not to like?

2. Mademoiselle de Scudéri – E.T.A. Hoffman

My final choice is technically a novella, but that just means it’s a quick read! As well as featuring a German Miss-Marple-style detective, the elderly poet known as Mme de Scudéri, this book also has a jeweller at its centre. René Cardillac is a renowned goldsmith whose pieces are so highly prized they’re being stolen, and who is also famous for liking his own creations so much he often refuses to part with them – I think all jewellers have been there after finishing something we’re particularly proud of!

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(c) Fantasy & Horror Classics

The story moves at quite a pace, and also sets the scene beautifully in 17th century Paris. I know a lot of people have to read this one for school, which could ruin it a bit for some, but since I’ve only read the English translation for fun, I’m recommending it!

3. The Roses of Picardie – Simon Raven

The Roses of Picardie is the only book on this list that actually features a piece of jewellery as opposed to a gemstone, because I’ve found from experience that most of the novels featuring jewellery as a main plot point are romance-based (no shade; just very much not my thing). Raven’s horror-mystery novel, on the other hand, is a deliciously dark tale featuring his staple horrible characters, cursed rubies, and a journey across Europe. Fun fact: a holiday I took around France in the summer of 2010 was directly inspired by this book, so it works as a travel guide, too!

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Simon Raven was a famously nasty person, who once replied to his wife’s telegraphed request for money to stop her and their child starving with the curt ‘No money; suggest eat baby.’ His unpleasantness and the unflinching awfulness of his characters are, to be honest, part of his appeal. However, the downside to The Roses of Picardie is that this goes further than in some of his other works (e.g. Alms For Oblivion), and there’s a vein of anti-Semitism and some liberal use of the ‘n’ word throughout. Obviously, it’s up to the individual whether that element outweighs enjoyment of the story or not for them personally. It’s definitely one of my problematic faves!

Even more jewellery-related books…

I also have quite a long jewellery-related TBR, which is mostly non-fiction and goes something like this…

  • The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins (I know, I know, I’ve just never got round to it…)
  • Jewels: A Secret History – Victoria Finlay
  • Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box – Madeleine Albright
  • Victorian Jewelry, Identity, and the Novel: Prisms of Culture – Jean Arnold
  • The Emperor’s Pearl – Robert van Gulik
  • Jewel: A Celebration of Earth’s Treasures – DK/Judith Miller

If you have any recommendations for novels featuring jewellery or jewels, please let me know in the comments! New ones are surprisingly difficult to find on Goodreads for some reason…

Source: rebloggy.com

The Affair of the Diamond Necklace

Last week, I delved into the recent sale of Marie Antoinette’s jewellery, but I didn’t have space to go into the bizarre tale known as The Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Strap in, everyone; this one’s a wild ride!

So, how exactly did a kerfuffle over a huge diamond harness contribute to the French Revolution? Yep, it was more of a harness than a necklace:

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Reproduction necklace based on sketches.

The necklace itself was actually commissioned several years earlier, in 1772, for the previous king, Louis XV’s, favourite mistress, the infamous Madame du Barry.

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Source: Wikipedia

Not one to believe that less is more, the king designed this monstrosity for du Barry, featuring a vast amount of diamonds, including 17 huge diamond drops:

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Original sketch of the necklace design. Source: Wikipedia.

Unfortunately for the jewellers who set about collecting the necessary stones, the king died of smallpox before they were done, leaving his debt unpaid. I know this may not have gone down well with an autocratic king, but this is a prime example of why you get money for custom orders up front, my fellow artists!

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Backed into a corner, the jewellers hoped that the famously lavish Marie Antoinette might want to buy the necklace off them instead. Unfortunately for them, the new queen was not one to wear someone’s sloppy seconds, especially if they were originally designed for a woman she despised and looked down upon.

In 1781, after trying to offload the necklace outside the country, the desperate jewellers once again tried to persuade Marie Antoinette to take it off their hands, but to no avail.

Enter con artist Jeanne de La Motte, who came up with a plan to further her status in court at the cost of the people around her. As you do.

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Source: Wikipedia

Her first play was to get into bed (literally) with the Cardinal de Rohan, a man Marie Antoinette happened to loathe because he’d been gossiping about her mother, naturally. Persuading de Rohan, who was presumably not too bright (or bothered about his vow of chastity), that she was cosy with the queen, La Motte promised to get him back into favour.

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Source: reactiongifs.com

Rohan began sending notes to the queen, with La Motte bringing him replies ‘from the queen herself’, and eventually setting up a meeting between the two at the cardinal’s request. Did this phase La Motte? Not one bit! She simply brought along a local sex worker with a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette, and they all met in August 1794 in the rose garden at the Palace of Versailles.

Image source: By Kallgan - Unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=336150

After La Motte’s friend had convinced Rohan that she (‘the queen’) had forgiven him, La Motte began borrowing large sums of money off the cardinal for ‘Marie Antoinette’s charity work’. She also started boasting about her relationship with the queen, which people seemed to believe.

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The enterprising jewellers, Boehmer and Bassenge, approached La Motte to try once more to sell the necklace to the queen, and she agreed. Following an incorrectly-signed note to Rohan instructing him to buy the necklace in secret so as not to raise tensions by buying lavish jewellery in a time of starvation.

Rohan merrily went on his way, and secured the necklace, after which La Motte and an accomplice merrily split it up and sold the stones on the black market!

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Unfortunately for them, it all came apart when the jewellers became suspicious of the lack of payment and notes ‘from the queen’, and went to Marie Antoinette herself to demand payment. The queen told them she had not ordered the necklace, had not received it, and most certainly would not be paying for it.

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With a flair for the dramatic, the king and queen resolved to arrest the Cardinal at one of the biggest religious celebrations of the year (presumably to make an example of him). When Rohan was ready to officiate the Assumption of Mary, on 15 August 1785, he was promptly arrested and brought before the court, then to the Bastille. Jeanne de La Motte, however, was not arrested until three days later, in which time she destroyed her papers relating to the fraud.

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Also arrested were Nicole Le Guay, the Marie Antoinette impersonator, and Rétaux de Villette, La Motte’s lover by whom she originally entered court society. Side note: Villette is described on Wikipedia as ‘French procurer, forger, blackmailer and prostitute’, which would make a pretty great Twitter bio…

Somehow, the feckless cardinal managed to worm his way out of punishment, but La Motte was whipped, branded with a V for ‘voleuse’ (‘thief’) on both shoulders (ew), and sent to prison at the Salpêtrière. Villette got off lightly, being merely banished, but La Motte’s unlucky husband was tried in absentia and sent to be a galley slave.

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But it’s not over yet! After a year’s imprisonment, La Motte escaped dressed as a boy, and fled to London, from where she published a savage memoir blaming everything on Marie Antoinette.

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So why did the queen take the fall despite the evidence acquitting her?

This all went down in 1784-5, just 4 years before the French Revolution broke out and the monarchy came to an end. The profligate, Austrian Marie Antoinette was already wildly unpopular, the subject of a lot of vicious political cartoons (seriously, the picture below was the cleanest one I could find…), and her reputation didn’t need much of a push to hit rock bottom.

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Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately for her, public opinion sided roundly with La Motte, with some suggesting the queen had used her as a way to get some petty revenge on Rohan, or that she simply wanted some new jewels and was stealing from the public purse to get them. Following the affair, the pamphlets against her (read: political porn) began to be produced at an even greater rate, fuelling the anti-monarchy sentiment that eventually led to Marie Antoinette’s own beheading in 1793.

As I said earlier…

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If you’re interested in learning more about the scandal, the chapter on it in Aja Raden’s Stoned has a lot of great detail and is also a really fun book. And if you just can’t get enough, Jonathan Beckman has written an entire book on the subject. Enjoy!

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Disney Designs 5: Sale As Old As Time

The Goblin and I recently watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time in a few years, and you know what that means… Time for another Disney Designs post!

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Source: tenor.com

It’s not entirely clear in which historical period Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is supposed to be set, but a quick Google suggests some time around the mid-to-late 18th century, so let’s go with that.

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In the film, Belle is too busy swooning over the Beast’s gargantuan library (wahey) to wear very much jewellery, but you know who was around at this time who did? You guessed it: Marie Antoinette, the soon-to-be-headless Queen of France.

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Marie Antoinette (pictured here pre-guillotine, obviously..!) Source: Wikimedia Commons

As it happens, Marie Antoinette’s jewellery collection was just auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva, after going on display for the first time in two centuries. The collection was sold alongside other royal gems from the Bourbon-Parma family, and the whole lot broke Sotheby’s records, going for a whopping £33.63 million!

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Source: Tumblr

Before the French Revolution broke, she saw the writing on the wall and shipped some of her jewels off to her nephew in Vienna, meaning that they avoided the dismantling which befell the pieces left behind… and, indeed, their owner!

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Source: giphy.com

So, let’s take a peak inside Marie Antoinette’s jewellery box… (Ok, that’s probably enough innuendo now…)

 

It’s clear from first glance that this famous historical magpie was a BIG fan of both diamonds and pearls. Unlike today, where cultured pearls are plentiful and relatively affordable, in Marie Antoinette’s time, naturally-occurring pearls were very rare, and required many hours of life-threatening dives to obtain in any great number. Is it any surprise, then, that they were a favourite of this image-conscious royal?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, some saved jewellery was later broken up and reset anyway. This was and continues to be common practice amongst aristocratic families when it comes to heirlooms, since the component gemstones are often more valued than the piece they’re set in. Thus, it’s not unusual to see particularly beautiful stones set and reset into more contemporary pieces over the centuries.

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A 19th century diamond brooch made from stones smuggled out of Paris by Marie Antoinette. Image (c) Sotheby’s.

If you’re interested in the relationships between family members and gems, Sotheby’s have put together a handy family tree to show where each piece came from:

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Source: Sotheby’s (c)

The most famous and anticipated piece sold at auction was this pendant, fashioned from an enormous natural pearl (26 x 18mm!), topped with a diamond bow and large solitaire diamond:

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Image (c) Sotheby’s

It sold for *drumroll please* £28.4 million, beating its £1 million estimate by, er, quite a way, and beating the record previously set by Elizabeth Taylor’s Peregrina pendant.

 

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Source: Tumblr

It’s a total the queen herself would likely have been proud of, although it is true that her lavish tastes were exaggerated by her contemporaries. After all, can you blame them? The opportunity to tie Marie Antoinette to 1784-5 scandal known as ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace’ was too good to resist amongst the anti-monarchy feeling of the day…despite the fact that poor old Marie Antoinette had nothing to do with it. But that’s a story for next week’s post…and it’s a banger!

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Source: tenor.com

Famous jewels: Jackie O’s engagement ring

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Source: Glamour Magazine

It’s been a busy week, so here’s a quick mini-blog to tide you over until my next full-length post later this week. In my various sparkly research I come across a lot of famous gems I squirrel away to look at at a later date, so here’s one of my favourites, made by French jewellery firm Van Cleef and Arpels…

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Source: Pinterest

Subtle this one is not, but that’s why I love it. I mean, look at this sparkle! The First Lady was famously fond of emeralds (as am I!), so her engagement ring features a 2.84 carat square-cut emerald and a 2.88 carat square-cut diamond within a beautiful open-halo setting of 12 marquise-cut diamonds, as well as numerous smaller round diamonds along the gold band. Phew – no wonder its estimated value today is an eye-watering £966,000!

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Aside from the craftsmanship and sheer wow-factor of the ring, I love the two stand-out square-cut stones nestled together in their laurel-like surrounds. They’re the perfect pair, and a lovely representation of the promise of engagement – if only JFK hadn’t been such a rubbish, philandering husband, he and Jackie could have been the same! Still, at least she got this gorgeous sparkler out of him…

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Source: Pinterest

Let me know your favourite famous jewels in the comments – I love discovering exceptional pieces that I’ve never seen before!

Spotlight on: Elsa Peretti, pioneering jewellery designer

It’s International Women’s Day, so today’s spotlight had to be on trailblazing jewellery designer Elsa Peretti, who started out as the epitome 70s cool and continues to design gorgeous, innovative jewellery to this day. I mean, what’s not to love about a woman who casually refers to Andy Warhol (once a close friend) as ‘a bit of a shit’…?

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Peretti wearing her own designs.

Born in Florence in 1940, Peretti studied interior design before becoming a fashion model and moving to New York in the 1960s. It was in New York that she began to design jewellery independently, creating forward-thinking pieces in sensual shapes and elegant materials.

A significant member of the Studio 54 scene, in the late 60s and early 70s, Peretti lived a tempestuous life that was as glamorous and edgy as her designs. After several drug-fuelled years, she got clean, going on to win the Coty award for her jewellery designs in 1971. In 1972, Bloomingdale’s gave her her own boutique spot; the same year, she made her first Vogue appearance. She also designed for close friend and fellow club-scene-member, fashion designer Halston.

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Peretti in 1975. Photo by Helmut Newon.

In 1974, Peretti joined Tiffany as a designer, and it was this partnership which made her a household name. It continues to this day, with the now-elderly Peretti designing from her Catalan bolt-hole, Sant Martí Vell. She still makes 10% of Tiffany’s profits from her designs, more than any other designer in the company.

So, why is Elsa Peretti such a significant figure in jewellery design? Part of her success lies in how effectively her original designs captured a moment and a mood, that of seventies New York. Rebellion, excess, disco, women’s liberation – it’s all reflected in the boldness and sculptural nature of Peretti’s designs, which are meant to take the wearer effortlessly from boardroom to dancefloor. From statement cuffs to stylised hearts and hoop earrings, it’s that most elusive of styles: wearable high fashion.

The young Peretti was no stranger to rebellion by the time she began designing; she fled her wealthy, conservative family for Barcelona at 21, before moving to America to model. Endowed with natural style and charisma, she modelled to pay the bills while pursuing her real interest: jewellery design.

Not content with simply designing, Peretti began to change trends in jewellery design as well, using silver in her work. At the time, silver was considered ‘common’ in fine jewellery, but Peretti’s elegant, exciting, silver designs soon changed that.

The first piece Peretti made was a tiny silver vase, hung from a chain and with a tiny rosebud inside it. Anyone who was anyone went made for the novel idea, and vases & bottles are a popular motif in Peretti’s collections even today:

Her simple, sexy designs were unlike anything that had come before, and her most iconic piece, the 1974 ‘Bone’ cuff was an instant hit with everyone from Sophia Loren to Liza Minelli. Even today, this design appears on the red-carpet wrists of the likes of Rachel Weisz and Rosamund Pike, showing its timeless appeal and eternal cool.

Peretti is also inspirational because of her take-no-shit attitude and enormous work ethic. She insisted on keeping her own name and intellectual property rights when she signed with Tiffany & Co., so her collection is ‘Elsa Peretti for Tiffany’. She also isn’t backward in coming forward about her success: as she put it to Vanity Fair, ‘I am very happy with what I’ve done. I knew a man wasn’t going to give me money,’

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In 2000, Peretti took the money she had inherited from her family and put it into a foundation in her father’s name. The Nando Peretti foundation works globally to support human rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, and a host of other causes, and Peretti is personally involved in the work even now.

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If that wasn’t enough, in 2012, aged 72, she signed a new 20-year contract with Tiffany!

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Five Go-oooold Riiiiiings…

“On the fifth day of Christmas this great blog gave to me: five gold rings…”

Christmas itself may be over, but Tiding of Magpies has one last bit of seasonal sparkle for you. So if your stomachs are full after the festivities, feast your eyes instead on these gorgeous, gold specimens…

Lovely Lapis

My new fave stone is front and centre in this statement piece. Crafted between 1908 and 1917 in Russia, it’s meant to be a men’s ring, but I think I could pull it off… Lapis lazuli was popular with Fabergé during this period as well, because it turns out it’s mined in Siberia – I had no idea!

Go big or go home

The largest gold ring in the world, the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), was made in 2000 for a fairly reasonable $547,000 but is now worth around $3 million. Not too shabby, for an investment that might have seemed a bit pointless at the time!

The ring weighs nearly 64kg, is 21 carats, and took 55 workers 45 days to finish it. As well as the vast amount of gold, you can also see some whopping Swarovski stones adorning the ring; 5.1kg of stones were used in total, made up of 615 individual precious stones.

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Source: Ashok Varma via emirates247.com

Peas in a pod or corn on the cob?

I can’t decide what this gorgeous ring is exactly supposed to be, but it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Arts and Crafts jewellery I’ve seen. I’m a sucker for pearls being used in unexpected settings and styles, and this setting of three freshwater pearls from the Mississippi River is right up my street.

Made of 14 carat gold, this ring is unusual in the early 20th century Arts and Crafts movement, whose designers tended to favour silver.

Gorgeous Georgian

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Source: timelineauctions.com

The unusual stone choice in this Georgian ring caught my eye while I was researching this blog – the central amethyst is flanked by one white and one extremely rare blue diamond. The auction site where I found it suggests the jewellery didn’t realise the blue diamond was a diamond, and that it was perhaps passed onto them in a selection of salvage stones, since the cutting style pre-dates the ring itself.

I always love thinking about pieces that tell a story, and who knows where the stones in this ring came from originally, or why the jewellery chose them for this piece? The ring itself has a story to tell, too: it’s engraved with the ‘Ann Colinnbell Feb 1757 an. 60’ – perhaps it was once a love token? Speaking of love tokens…

Gold love-knot ring, Tiding of Magpies

Couldn’t resist… The last of my five gold rings is my own design, which has a story of its own: I originally designed this gold love-knot ring to wear at my own wedding.

Lovingly handcrafted from 0.8mm 9 carat yellow gold, it forms a delicate, infinite knot around the finger of the wearer. The love knot is an age-old symbol of everlasting love, and this ring is a modern take on that ancient tradition, which makes it the perfect love token for your favourite human.

So, those are my five, chosen-at-random, gold rings for the winding-up of the festive period. Let me know your favourites in the comments, or any you’d have liked me to include!

Sources

http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-largest-gold-ring-taiba-dubai-2011-05?IR=T

http://romanovrussia.com/antique/art-nouveau-russian-mens-ring/

https://www.timelineauctions.com/lot/georgian-gold-inscribed-ring-with-rare-blue-diamond/31538/

Spotlight on: Wallis Simpson’s panther bracelet

We’ve been watching The Crown recently, so this week I’m shining a spotlight on one of the most famous pieces of jewellery from that era: Wallis Simpson’s panther bracelet.

The piece, like its owner, divides opinion. Some, like the author of this rather terrible article, find it vulgar, whilst others feel it epitomised Simpson’s style and love of fashion. I’m coming down on the side of loving it; putting aside any opinions on its owner, there’s no denying it’s an iconic piece which spawned a raft of replicas. I even had a Topshop version as a teenager (not that I knew where the fashion had started, of course).

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Photo by Sotheby’s
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Photo by Sotheby’s

Let’s look at 5 fast facts about the bracelet:

1) It sold for £4.5 million in 2010, rumour has it to Madonna, although Sotheby’s never denied or confirmed that… The last time it was sold was as part of Sotheby’s Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor auction, which is the most valuable single-owner jewellery collection  ever sold.

2) It was custom-made for the Duchess of Windsor in 1952 by Cartier’s esteemed designer Jeanne Toussaint, referencing the nickname Louis Cartier (rumoured to be her lover) gave her. Cartier continues to make panther jewellery to this day, and it’s become somewhat of a trademark for the design house.

3) It was at the time a revolutionary design: the panther is extensively articulated, which allows it to drape itself around the wearer’s wrist rather than sitting stiffly like a bangle. Even today it remains a masterpiece of jewellery engineering due to the subtlety of its movement and sensuous lines created by the articulation. It also looks as if the panther is stalking its way around the wrist of the wearer, an amazing feat for a solid piece of metal and precious stones.

 

 

4) Poor Simpson was apparently very self-conscious about her ‘ugly hands’, often keeping them rolled into fists in public, so her statement panther bracelet may have been more more distraction than adornment.

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Source: Wikimedia

5) The bracelet is 195mm long, pave-set with brilliant and single-cut diamonds and calibre-cut onyx, and the eyes are two marquise-shaped emeralds.

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All stretched out. Photo by Sotheby’s.

So what do you think? Yay or nay? Personally, I’m dreaming of owning this beautiful piece as we speak…