THE BARON DE ROTHSCHILD NECKLACE
Margaret Young-Sánchez, et. al., Cartier in the 20th Century, pages 94-95.
Vogue New York, November 15, 1927, page 68.
A profile in a 1932 edition of Vogue stated that, ‘The Baronne de Rothschild is one of the small group of women in the world who are internationally known for their great chic. Her taste in clothes, in jewels, and in houses is faultless, and she is a person of outstanding distinction among the women of the present generation.’ When one observes the magnificent sapphire and emerald pendant necklace, purchased from Cartier in 1924 by the Baron Eugène de Rothschild for his new bride, it is evident that is was once in the collection of a world renowned tastemaker. Marking an important moment in the history of Art Deco jewelry design, this Cartier piece becomes all the more iconic when you look at the woman behind the jewel.
Born Catherine Wolff in Philadelphia, ‘Pretty Kitty’ as she was known was always destined to live a lavish international lifestyle. After studying music in Munich, she lived in New York with first husband Dandridge Sportswood, often traveling and socializing in Paris and London. In 1911 Catherine married Count Erwin Schoenborn of Austria; they met in Paris and resided in Vienna. Upon the end of her marriage to Schoenborn in 1924, Catherine married the Baron Eugène de Rothschild, of the famed international banking family. The present Cartier design dates to the same year, and was possibly a gift to celebrate the marriage.
It comes as no surprise, given the cities and the social circles in which the Baroness resided, that she was often celebrated as one of the best dressed women of the time. In 1937 a group of elite French designers including Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Jeanne Lanvin (amongst others) named the Baroness de Rothschild the 5th best dressed woman in the world. That year the list was topped by Mrs. Harrison Williams (later known as the Countess Mona von Bismarck). In 1938, Rothschild was named the 4th best dressed woman in the world, only to be surpassed by the Duchess of Kent, the Duchess of Windsor and Madame Antenor Patiño (who topped the list). Around this same time, after abdicating the throne in 1936, the Duke of Windsor stayed with the de Rothschilds at their castle in Enzesfeld, Austria. While the Duke waited to marry Wallis Simpson, newspapers across the globe went wild accounting for each step he took within the Rothschild estate. The Baron and Baroness de Rothschild were one of the few guests invited to attend the 1937 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who made several trips back to Enzesfeld after their nuptials. By 1940 the Baron and Baroness had moved to New York; the Baron made his journey in August and the Baroness followed in October after a brief stay in Lisbon. According to an October 6, 1940 article in the Chicago Tribune, ‘She carried with her a collection of jewels, declaring their listed value at more than $100,000.’
Likely hand carried by the Baroness de Rothschild on her journey from Lisbon to New York, the sapphire and emerald necklace by Cartier has a design as striking and modern as the day it was purchased in 1924. Created by Cartier’s chief designer Charles Jacqueau, a frontrunner of the bold Art Deco aesthetic, this jewel perfectly blends Eastern and Western motifs by modernizing the blue and green ‘peacock patterns’ often seen Mughal jewels and artwork. Suspending three important Mughal stones carved with floral motifs, the larger emerald is framed within a geometric lapis lazuli and diamond border. Composed of graduated Kashmir sapphire beads spaced by lapis lazuli and diamond rondelles, the length of the necklace would have perfectly suited the columnar dresses of the 1920s, yet maintains the same contemporary elegance when worn in the present day.
Illustrated here, this necklace was featured in a 1927 article in Vogue magazine. The article, titled ‘Vogue Sketches: The Beautiful New Jewels of the Smartest Women in Paris,’ states that, ‘These beautiful jewels have been created especially for the women who wear them, and they are individual expressions of what is newest and smartest in the jewel mode as it is seen to-day on the chic women of the Continent.’ Stylish and wearable with a design that transcends time, the Baron de Rothschild necklace is an extraordinary and iconic Cartier jewel with a history as vibrant as the stones of which it is composed.
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