“If These Jewels Could Talk” They’d Probably Never Shut Up!

Beth Bernstein’s third and latest book “If These Jewels Could Talk: The Legends Behind Celebrity Gems” (due out November 23) has a lot in common with a fine, vintage wine — the “grapes” for the book were aged 22 years. Author, consultant, jewelry designer Bernstein’s initial ingredient or idea “stems” from a childhood fascination with the style and glamour of Old Hollywood as represented by the stars of the silver screen who would often wear their own jewelry in a film. As I previously mentioned in my Doyle & Doyle book signing article, as a child Bernstein would stay up late with her grandmother, re-watching all their favorite old movies, dressed up in rhinestone tiaras whilst imbibing ginger ale out of champagne glasses, all setting the stage for this compendium.

Elizabeth Taylor’s set © Bulgari

The book shines like a well cut stone in several ways. The first five chapters detail the various gemstones individually (sapphires, emeralds, rubies, diamonds and pearls) cataloging which famous women preferred which as well as how they were acquired, designed into jewelry, worn and eventually sold. There are many fascinating anecdotes: Marlene Dietrich accidentally baked her 37.41-carat emerald cabochon ring into a cake at a dinner party; Elizabeth Taylor’s dog found the famous La Peregrina 35mm pearl, once owned by Queen Mary I of England and Queen Isabella of Spain, a good chew toy; Elizabeth Taylor’s one-time husband Mike Todd secretly commissioned a pair of her paste earrings into real diamonds to which an unsuspecting La Liz remarked that they “felt different on her ears.”

Audrey Hepburn wearing necklace and tiara in Roman Holiday

The other chapters of the book go into further detail and explanation about the role of gems in movie roles. Sometimes the jewelry was integral to the plot as in “To Catch A Thief”, or could even involve a tie-in such as Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” At other times the jewelry seemed to be worn despite the fact that it was not even of the designated time period as in Rudolf Valentino’s Cartier Tank Watch which appeared on his wrist in a still for “Son of A Sheik.”

Carole Lombard wearing star sapphire ring © Corbis

Notable pieces are profiled whether owned by royal jewelry collectors/enthusiasts such as Wallis Simpson (The Duchess of Windsor), Grace Kelly, Princess Di and Queen Elizabeth; Hollywood legends such as Carole Lombard, Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Marilyn Monroe, Gina Lollobrigida; current celebrities such as Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian West, Jessica Simpson and Emily Blunt; or even past and present political figures like Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama.

Coco Chanel  ©alamy

Of course, Coco Chanel is in a class by herself as she was the first proponent of mixing real and faux pearls (high and low) all together at once. It’s also interesting to note the amount of jewelry that was worn in the hair by some of the stars of the ’30s and ’40s including actual brooches and clips not originally intended for that use. I would have liked to know a bit more about how the on screen fashions were selected. Were they in coordination with the jewelry or perhaps influenced when the wardrobe designer sketched it?

 Duchess of Windsor 1945  ©corbis

Not directly related to the book but in a similar vein and also happening Monday is an auction at Bonhams in conjunction with TCM called Treasures From The Dream Factory  featuring the jewelry of Natalie Wood as well as costumes worn in films such as Judy Garland’s Dorothy dress from “The Wizard of Oz,” and a gown from “Easter Parade,” Marilyn Monroe’s red gown from “River of No Return” and skirt suit from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” along with costumes worn by Lana Turner, Merle Oberon, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly and a white suit that Katherine Hepburn wore while promoting “African Queen”.

Tiffany Diamond © Tiffany & Co

The last section is a directory of all of the famed jewelry designers mentioned throughout the book including those who have gone out of business such as Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, and Paul Flaco to those who are going thriving today such as Tiffany, Bulgari, Verdura, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston and David Webb. If you have a strong interest in fine jewelry or are fascinated to the point of voyeurism in how “the rich are different from you and me” then definitely pick up this book.  As someone with a little third hand knowledge of collecting and auctioning fine jewels, I found that although the book visually resembles a Sotheby’s or Christie’s Fine Jewelry catalog, it is informative and mostly succeeded in keeping my attention in all but the most descriptive and technical parts.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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