GENEVA - Are you a Middle Eastern baby-boomer? If so, the Magnificent Jewels & Noble Jewels sale on 14 May at Sotheby’s Geneva will have a particular interest for you! Why? Because of two iconic figures featured in it: one, the everlasting, iconic Gina Lollobrigida with whom we grew up on the silver screen, and the other, His Late Imperial Majesty Sultan Ahmad Shah Qajar who died in 1930 but whose legacy survived well into the post war era. For me, these two very unlikely figures are intertwined in a serendipitous but wonderful way. They both represented an era of glamour, unbridled luxury and elegance. As Lollobrigida dazzled in films such as Solomon, Sheba and Fanfan La Tulipe, Ahmad Shah had those very films screened privately for him. As she waltzed from one life partner to another, the Shah led an equally interesting personal life, nearly matching the uxorious Henry VIII!
Richard Burton and Gina Lollobrigida at the premiere of The Taming of the Shrew in 1967. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HARRY MYERS/REX FEATURES.
(left) A Diamond Ring Brooch weighing 19.03 carats, Bulgari, 1962. (center) A pair of Natural Pearl and Diamond Pendants. (right) A diamond Necklace/Bracelet Combination, Bulgari, 1954.
The star attractions in our jewellery sale next week feature important Bulgari jewels of the 1950s and 1960s worn by the legendary Italian actress at landmark moments in her career; later these same jewels were highlights of the international touring exhibition, Bulgari – 125 Years of Italian Magnificence in 2009-2012. They include a cushion-shaped diamond ring weighing 19.03 carats, a pair of natural pearl and diamond pendants and a stunning 1950s diamond necklace. His Late Majesty too, ever the boastful monarch, owned an exceptional cushion-shaped Fancy Yellow diamond jewel weighing nearly 75 carats, together with several other important diamonds.
(left) The young Ahmed Shah, the last Qajar King, close to the time he ascended the throne at age 11. (center).
Do we feel as if we share in the immortality of a diamond or other extraordinary gem when we own or wear it? Do we beam and dazzle along with its radiance? Certainly that seems to be the case, as so many of the world’s most glamorous and elegant figures have shared this love of jewellery. For centuries, both European and Middle Eastern families (men and women!) have thought of them as portable or bridal wealth, as status symbols and solid investments that can be easily hidden or transported in war time or adversity. A history of the uses of jewellery would probably demonstrate the power of this man-made artefact over and above many others that we associate with rank and status. Most importantly, beautiful jewellery was supposed to endow its owner with good fortune and almost magical powers. For Gina Lollobrigida, and for Ahmad Shah, this probably held true!