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Details & Cataloguing

Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels, Session 3

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Geneva

Important jadeite, onyx, ruby and diamond pendant/brooch, Cartier, circa 1925
Set with two carved jadeites on an onyx hoop, highlighted with single- and circular-cut diamonds, the ends set with sugarloaf rubies, signed Cartier, numbered, French maker's marks. 
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Provenance

Formerly in the Collection of Mona, Countess von Bismarck (1897-1983).

The Magnificent Jewels of the late Countess Mona Bismarck, Sotheby’s Geneva, 13 May 1986, lot 8.

Literature

Cf.: Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes, Famous Jewelry Collectors, London, 1999, pg. 133 for an illustration of this brooch.

Cf.: Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes, 20th Century Jewelry and The Icons of Style, London, 2013, pg. 118 for an illustration of this brooch.

Catalogue Note

Born Mona Travis Strader in Louisville, Kentucky in 1897, she had been twice married and divorced by the age of 27; first to wealthy businessman Henry Schlesinger in 1917, and then to affluent banker James Irving Bush, said to be the handsomest man in America. In 1924 she settled in New York and soon met Harrison Williams, twenty-four years her senior, who was one of the richest men in America; they married in 1926. After their around-the-world honeymoon cruise on Williams’ yacht Warrior, the largest and most expensive pleasure boat in the world at the time, the couple moved into a neo-Georgian mansion on upper Fifth Avenue in New York and acquired Oak Point, a huge property in Bayville on Long Island's North Shore, as well as a home in Palm Beach and the Villa Il Fortino in Capri. Her husband’s fortune gave Mona free rein in her love of the arts. She purchased works by Goya, Tiepolo and Fragonard to furnish the New York estate, and also commissioned contemporary decorators, such as José Maria Sert and Syrie Maugham, to decorate her homes.

Mona became a lifelong friend and photographic subject of Cecil Beaton. He described her as “one of the few outstanding beauties of the thirties… who represented the epitome of all that taste and luxury can bring to flower”. By the early 1930s, Mona’s beauty and elegance were a subject of note on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1933, she was voted “the best-dressed woman in the world” in the annual poll held by the major French couturiers, including Chanel, Molyneux, Vionnet, Lelong and Lanvin. In the photographic portraits of Mona taken in the late 1920s and 1930s, her beauty is enhanced by her stylish period jewels. Like many of her contemporaries, she had her jewels redesigned to keep up with the fashion, so only a few of her Art Deco pieces survive in their original form. One such piece is the Cartier brooch offered in this auction.

 

Harrison Williams died at Oak Point in 1953 and Mona inherited a vast fortune. The following year, she married Edward, Count von Bismarck, grandson of Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany. They moved to Europe, and in 1956 they purchased a hôtel particulier in Paris at 34 Avenue de New York, which she completely redecorated. Mona was a glamorous and admired hostess in Paris and on Capri, entertaining guests such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. She was always resplendent in her jewels and beautiful gowns.

After the death of Count von Bismarck in 1970, Mona had an unhappy marriage to Umberto de Martini, who died in a car accident in 1979. Her last years were spent quietly and she died in Paris in 1983 at the age of 86. Her legacy continues through a foundation that bears her name, based in her home in Paris, which fosters Franco-American bonds through art and culture.

 

In 1986, Sotheby’s Geneva had the privilege of selling the magnificent collection of jewels of the late Mona Bismarck. Her jewels demonstrated her love of beautiful gemstones, as well as her devotion to the luxurious pursuits of life.

Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels, Session 3

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Geneva