Please note that the remaining pearls have not been tested for natural origin due to the nature of the mounting.
Grace Greenway Brown was one of eight children born to Frances Winchester and George Brown of Baltimore. As a member of a prominent banking family with a lineage detailed in Henry Colburn’s Peerage and Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland, she and her two sisters were well-positioned to catch the attention of eligible bachelors when they arrived in Chicago. Sister Frances married Walter Woodruff Keith, a member of the Chicago Blue Book; sister Sarah married Stanley Field, the brother of Marshall; and Grace, not to be outdone, married Honoré Palmer, the son of Bertha and Potter Palmer.
Entering “Palmer Castle” for the first time, the castellated residence of her famous in-laws would have been a daunting experience for any young bride-to-be. Bertha and Potter Palmer were credited not only with rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, but also with transforming it from a cultural backwater into a city of international significance. Bertha was the celebrated “Queen of Chicago,” a woman with an outsized personality and a passion for art—works by Monet, Renoir and Pissarro figured prominently in her collection—and a penchant for fine jewels. One account of her enviable opulence centers on a trans-Atlantic voyage on the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm in 1904. Alois Burgskeller of the Metropolitan Opera was in the midst of a performance in one of the public rooms when Bertha Palmer entered. Wearing a tiara set with diamonds the size of “Tokay grapes,” she was said to be so dazzling that the tenor was forced to stop singing while his audience beheld the true center of attention. Like many women of a certain station in the early 1900s, Bertha favored diamonds and pearls, and it is only logical that she would guide her daughter-in-law’s taste, as suggested by the exquisite Cartier bracelet offered here.
With no surviving children, Grace gifted the bracelet to her niece Harriet. Harriet also seemed to inherit Grace’s talent for marrying well, if a bit more often. Her first marriage was to a Mr. Marbury, who was killed in a dual in Maryland, followed by a Mr. Wentworth of Chicago, and finally by Edward Hersey of Sarasota where her aunt, Grace, now widowed, maintained a large estate. Harriet, in the words of a family member, “was a colorful personality, to be sure.” One need look no further than the family photograph of Cousin Harriet with her pet cheetah to know she was hardly conventional. Today’s world is sorely lacking in eccentrics, but there still remains the thrill of discovering a stunning piece of jewelry and the stories it can tell.
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