Women of Style: The Legendary Jewelry Collectors of Palm Beach

Palm Beach is a city of legend and legendary jewelry mavens. I thought I’d share a quick look at three of the city’s most renowned historical collectors:

Palm Beach is a city of legend and legendary jewelry mavens. I thought I’d share a quick look at three of the city’s most renowned historical collectors:


Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887 – 1973) first visited Palm Beach in 1909. Returning for the winter season year after year, she made a lasting mark on the community through her gracious hospitality, philanthropy and voracious collecting of fine and decorative art. She was considered one of most important jewelry collectors in the world, amassing an extraordinary collection of Verdura, Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston. At the time, she had the largest collection of Cartier in the United States, commissioning new pieces from the house as well as acquiring historic jewels from a time when the jeweler was creating some of its most significant work.


One of her personal favorites was this 1928 Cartier Art Deco emerald, diamond and enamel pendant brooch that features more than 250 carats of carved emeralds dating to the Mughal period. She wore it often, including to the 1929 Palm Beach Everglades Costume Ball where she dressed as Juliette. Today it can be seen, along with other stellar pieces from her collection, at her house museum Hillwood, in Washington DC and at the Smithsonian Institution, where her donation helped to form the foundation of the Gem Gallery.

Mid-century It Girl Mona von Bismarck (1897-1983) cut a wide swath through international society. She was painted by Salvador Dali, photographed by Cecil Beaton, captured in song by Cole Porter and even satirized by Truman Capote in his final book Answered Prayers.

Celebrated for her style, she was fawned over in the press and her taste inspired trends, from aquamarine jewelry - the color of her legendary eyes - to the glamorous interiors by Syrie Maugham, who designed both her New York and Palm Beach homes. The first to be named “Best-Dressed Woman in the World” by a committee including Chanel, Lanvin, Vionnet and Molyneux, she was an avid collector of Belperron and Verdura jewelry and was often seen draped in Balenciaga wearing her signature ropes of pearls.


On her honeymoon cruise with Harrison Williams, her third husband and reportedly the richest man in the US, she purchased a 98.6 carat cornflower blue Ceylon sapphire in Sri Lanka which she had fashioned into a dramatic necklace by Cartier in 1935. Now known as the Bismarck Sapphire, it is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection.

Beauty industry legend Estée Lauder (1906 - 2004) was a pioneering entrepreneur who believed every woman could be beautiful – that is, with the right shade of lipstick and an extraordinary piece of jewelry. She found a kindred spirit and lifelong friend in David Webb. Considered one of the greatest American jewelers of the 20th century, Webb, like Lauder, was a self-made success. He was known for his use of yellow gold, diamonds, semi-precious stones and colorful enamel in pieces that were almost exclusively bold in design, and Lauder recognized the power of those statement jewels.

 
Whether in New York, or Palm Beach, where she lived in a 1930s-era Neo-Classical home on Ocean Boulevard, she relied on her Webb pieces to add glamour to her day and evening looks. In Webb’s creative heyday of the 1960s and 70s, Lauder, along with other elite women of style, including Jackie Kennedy, Doris Duke and Elizabeth Taylor appreciated the modernity of his work with its distinctive scale and the drama it brought to any look. Lauder so favored Webb’s pieces that she even incorporated them in her ad campaigns.

Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887 – 1973) first visited Palm Beach in 1909. Returning for the winter season year after year, she made a lasting mark on the community through her gracious hospitality, philanthropy and voracious collecting of fine and decorative art. She was considered one of most important jewelry collectors in the world, amassing an extraordinary collection of Verdura, Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston. At the time, she had the largest collection of Cartier in the United States, commissioning new pieces from the house as well as acquiring historic jewels from a time when the jeweler was creating some of its most significant work.

One of her personal favorites was this 1928 Cartier Art Deco emerald, diamond and enamel pendant brooch that features more than 250 carats of carved emeralds dating to the Mughal period. She wore it often, including to the 1929 Palm Beach Everglades Costume Ball where she dressed as Juliette. Today it can be seen, along with other stellar pieces from her collection, at her house museum Hillwood, in Washington DC and at the Smithsonian Institution, where her donation helped to form the foundation of the Gem Gallery.

Mid-century It Girl Mona von Bismarck (1897-1983) cut a wide swath through international society. She was painted by Salvador Dali, photographed by Cecil Beaton, captured in song by Cole Porter and even satirized by Truman Capote in his final book Answered Prayers.

Celebrated for her style, she was fawned over in the press and her taste inspired trends, from aquamarine jewelry - the color of her legendary eyes - to the glamorous interiors by Syrie Maugham, who designed both her New York and Palm Beach homes. The first to be named “Best-Dressed Woman in the World” by a committee including Chanel, Lanvin, Vionnet and Molyneux, she was an avid collector of Belperron and Verdura jewelry and was often seen draped in Balenciaga wearing her signature ropes of pearls.

On her honeymoon cruise with Harrison Williams, her third husband and reportedly the richest man in the US, she purchased a 98.6 carat cornflower blue Ceylon sapphire in Sri Lanka which she had fashioned into a dramatic necklace by Cartier in 1935. Now known as the Bismarck Sapphire, it is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection.

Beauty industry legend Estée Lauder (1906 - 2004) was a pioneering entrepreneur who believed every woman could be beautiful – that is, with the right shade of lipstick and an extraordinary piece of jewelry. She found a kindred spirit and lifelong friend in David Webb. Considered one of the greatest American jewelers of the 20th century, Webb, like Lauder, was a self-made success. He was known for his use of yellow gold, diamonds, semi-precious stones and colorful enamel in pieces that were almost exclusively bold in design, and Lauder recognized the power of those statement jewels.


Whether in New York, or Palm Beach, where she lived in a 1930s-era Neo-Classical home on Ocean Boulevard, she relied on her Webb pieces to add glamour to her day and evening looks. In Webb’s creative heyday of the 1960s and 70s, Lauder, along with other elite women of style, including Jackie Kennedy, Doris Duke and Elizabeth Taylor appreciated the modernity of his work with its distinctive scale and the drama it brought to any look. Lauder so favored Webb’s pieces that she even incorporated them in her ad campaigns.