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The Commons
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News

Diamonds of the stars

For a day, celebrity-owned trinkets and baubles come to Brattleboro as part of an antique 'trunk show'

Originally published in The Commons issue #437 (Wednesday, December 6, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.



BRATTLEBORO—Elizabeth Taylor couldn’t come — mainly because she died in 2011. But her exquisitely carved, pink peacock cameo earrings were for sale on Main Street in Brattleboro for just one day last week.

And Jerry Lee Lewis couldn’t come either — the bad boy of rockabilly piano isn’t dead yet, but he may be too old to travel. Or maybe he just doesn’t care that his 1950s-era ID bracelet, with “Jerry Lee Lewis” inscribed on it, was also up for sale.

Brattleboro unexpectedly experienced a frisson of second-hand celebrity magic last week when Renaissance Jewelry put on a one-day-only “Legacy” estate and antique jewelry trunk show. For the event, Renaissance hooked up with Singer Estate Collection, a fourth-generation family-run estate, antique, and celebrity jewelry company that has been in business since 1901.

The event was billed as “A three million dollar collection of antique, vintage, and contemporary estate jewelry. Prices starting at $500” — with no mention of the celebrity angle.

Going all in for elegance, Renaissance provided its clients with upscale cookies and champagne-and-orange-juice mimosas served in elegant crystal glasses.

The two most expensive pieces in the show — neither of them having celebrity provenance but both offering a lot of wattage — were two diamond necklaces, each valued at around $30,000. When asked to produce the “low end” $500 pieces, the Singer rep couldn’t find them.

Glowing jewels

Cases running the length of one wall of the store were full of beautiful antique pieces including trays of Art Deco diamond watches and bracelets plus glowing jeweled earrings, a stunning morganite-and-diamond teardrop pendant that would take an ego the size of a house to actually wear, and many other lovely finds.

It was my fondness for Art Deco that drew me to the sale, but I was startled to find that the celebrity pieces, many of them accompanied by pictures of the celebrities (although not with pictures of the celebrities wearing said pieces), generated in me a giggling sort of excitement.

It was as if People magazine, always a guilty pleasure, had come to life in Brattleboro.

I felt a little thrill when I handled the stunning peacock cameo earrings, knowing that, at least once, Taylor’s bejeweled hand must have held them, even if only to take them out of the box in front of a mirror and hold them against her white-diamond-scented ears.

And if my hands had caressed the earrings a bit too long, or a bit more lovingly, and if perhaps I had walked out with them boxed in my pocket, I would have left behind $26,000. The earrings were lovely, but that kind of money would be strictly for the Liz effect.

There was also a slender bracelet worn by Shirley Temple Black, although at what age the child star wore it was hard to figure out — after all, she had such a long career. There was a pin once worn by Joan Rivers, and a large clunky silver rose bracelet once owned by Shirley Jones.

“That silver bracelet? Someone really loved it,” said diamond lover and Renaissance owner Caitlyn Wilkinson after the show. “Some of the women who were here early? Their partners came in later. And it was mentioned that the partner might get the bracelet for the holidays.”

There were a few trinkets that were not especially notable except that they were once owned by Ava Gardner. A rock crystal and gold watch once worn by Mary Pickford would have been my favorite choice for a Christmas present — if it fit.

Farrah Fawcett? A gold tube in which she once carried spray perfume.

Yul Brynner? A small and heavy carved golden box inscribed with the tribute “for being a beautiful friend” to, of all people, Mia Farrow. If you didn’t want to buy the heavy box, at least you could stand there holding it in your hands, speculating on the nature of that particular friendship.

Gifts and secrets

Stars, it seems, frequently give presents. A solid gold pocket watch Jack Lemmon gave to Tony Curtis, possibly after they made The Great Race together, was in the same case as a solid gold pocket watch that Michele Carey, a blonde I’ve never heard of, gave to Elvis Presley while they were making a film in 1968 I’ve never heard of — Live a Little, Love a Little.

And if Elvis does it for you, there was also a tie clip of his with the letter “E” engraved on it.

If you remember Sid Caesar, one of the great comedians of television’s Golden Age, would you want an undistinguished pair of his cuff links? Remember Sid Caesar? Remember cuff links?

The gold ring owned by Caesar’s wife, Florence, lacked frisson. So did the pink-and-gold ring of a celebrity I’ve never heard of named Lupita Tovar. (A quick check of Google reveals that she was “a Mexican-American actress and centenarian best known for her starring role in the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula.)

Perhaps the oddest piece was a money clip once owned by Patrick Swayze. It was plain, undecorated and metal, and it looked exactly like any other money clip. If you bought it, only you would know it once held Swayze’s dollar bills. You might even wonder if it ever did.

But Singer, which buys most of these pieces at estate sales and auctions, says they have all the paperwork needed to prove provenance.

Renaissance didn’t manage to sell any of the celebrity pieces, “Although we still have two people who are interested,” Wilkinson said.

The show may be over in Brattleboro, but it’s still on the road. The Singer company does one show after another during the holiday season. And if one of Wilkinson’s customers decides they want one of the celebrity pieces, a phone call will bring it back to Brattleboro — provided it hasn’t already been sold.

Celebrities aside, the sale of the antique pieces went well, Wilkinson said.

More importantly, “We got to see some of our wonderful clients who love and collect estate jewelry,” she said. “The sale created lots of excitement.”

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