Jewels of Hollywood: Accessories and Jewellery that Made the Stars Shine
July 19, 2019
Our fascination with celebrities – and their glittering jewels, accoutrements and couture clothing – has fed our imaginations since the early days of motion pictures. They represent who we think we could be in our wildest dreams.
Hollywood – and the jewels stars wear – have gone hand-in-hand for many years to attract the attention and imagination of film audiences. The Golden Age of Hollywood, roughly from the end of silent films through to the 1950s and '60s, was flush with funds and a studio system that produced glittering and glamorous stars and moneymaking films.
Once a potential leading lady was found, a team set about to transform her into a star, according to “Hollywood Jewels: Movies, Jewelry, Stars”, written by Penny Prodow, Debra Healy and Marion Fasel. This included developing her look, her home and her social life.
“With so much money tied up in a star, decking her out in precious jewelry was considered not an extravagance but part of the investment,” according to the book.
“Jewels of Hollywood”, on loan from the Kazanjian Foundation, showcases some of the pieces associated with Hollywood royalty of decades past. It is a window into the lives and loves of some of the entertainment industry’s most iconic members.
Arranged by topic, the exhibition cases include jewellery, cufflinks and other accessories, such as watches, compacts, cigarette cases, money clips and mesh handbags. The stars and film moguls represented include:
- Leading Men – Clark Gable, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Buddy Hackett and Jack Benny.
- Leading Ladies – Eva Gabor, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Mary Ann Mobley, Joan Collins, Martha Scott, Faye Dunaway and Madonna.
- Behind the Scenes – Billionaire businessman producer Howard Hughes, writer and director Billy Wilder, and producer and co-founder of Twentieth Century Studios (later 20th Century Fox) Darryl F. Zanuck. The case also contains pieces by some of America’s titan families, including the Duponts and J.P. Morgan.
What is striking about many of the pieces in this collection is that they were actually picked out and owned by the stars, not selected by stylists, as is common today, says Terri Ottaway, curator of collections for the GIA Museum in Carlsbad, California.
“Jewellery is one of the most sentimental objects we can buy for ourselves or as gifts for others – and film stars love sentimental gifts just like the rest of us,” she says. “A lot of these pieces have inscriptions that are really endearing.”
Carole Lombard, for example, gave a beautiful gold cigarette case to her husband Clark Gable with the engraving: “Darling” with love from “Ma”, dated “Xmas 41”, referencing the pet names “Ma” and “Pa” Lombard and Gable used for each other.
Also included in the exhibition are some of the compacts and cases stars used to carry make-up and other items.
“When the stars used to travel, there wasn’t a travelling jewellery box type of item to keep their baubles and personal items secure, so it wasn’t uncommon to see a grand dame using an old cigar box, or coffee can, or tobacco tin, or something along those lines to hold her jewels and make-up,” says Doug Hall, an instructor at GIA.
Soon, iconic jewellery houses, such as Van Cleef & Arpels, responded by creating elegant compacts to hold these items, he says. The cases could be personalised and embellished with gemstones and motifs.
The exhibition includes Eva Gabor’s ruby-embellished lipstick case, compact and notebook holder from Van Cleef & Arpels, and compacts from Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson.
Fans of The Golden Age of Hollywood will enjoy seeing “Jewels of Hollywood” as they tour GIA, says Ottaway.
“It’s an extra-special treat for older visitors and fans of old films,” she says. “There is something wonderful about being able to make a personal connection with the iconic stars you remember seeing on the big screen.”
Amanda J. Luke is a senior communications manager at GIA. She is the editor of the GIA Insider and Alum Connect and was the editor of The Loupe magazine.