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May 28th, 2003 Elizabeth Dye | Fashion
 

All the Stars in Heaven

A local jeweler unveils gems of a legendary screen goddess.

     
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Marlene Dietrich is in town. Well, actually one mighty piece of her is in the Pearl District.

Gari, a local estate and period jewelry business that has been owned by Pamela Martin's family for 50-plus years (they also have a rare-diamond HQ in New York), has laid its hands on a 52-carat-diamond, 35-carat-emerald necklace valued at several hundred thousand dollars. According to Martin, the gem once belonged to the legendary, husky-voiced, German movie star of cinematic classics such as The Blue Angel and The Devil Is a Woman. It was the crown jewel, so to speak, of a period jewelry sale that was held recently at her shop.

While you may have missed the sale of rare baubles, don't worry: Marlene's rocks will be stalking Gari for another week before heading off to spend summer vacation in a climate-controlled safe in NYC. And if you've got $300,000 to $400,000 lying around, you can take it home instead.

Now, the name "Marlene Dietrich" is more likely to conjure up images of a cigarette-smoking, cross-dressing vamp than a gem-loving glamour gal, but the truth is Dietrich adored fashion--especially jewels. Throughout the '30s (her cinematic heyday), dozens of pieces were designed for her--just trifles, really: a few gigantic diamond chokers, a handful of emerald brooches. She was known to don her own jewelry for films; an exquisite ruby bracelet she wore in Stage Fright recently fetched a mere $990,000 at Sotheby's auction house.

Dietrich also paired her gems with the slinky robes and exotic furs she favored for hundreds of her famous publicity shots--Marlene brandishing baguettes as she swirls in a spangled gown, her cabochon cuffs peeking from the sleeves of a leopard-trimmed dinner dress. These photos, republished in biographies of her life, have often helped appraisers authenticate jewels as having actually belonged to her.

And documentation is prized when it comes to Dietrich, who died in Paris at the age of 90 in 1992. Why? Because the U.S. government confiscated most of her fine jewelry pieces for unpaid taxes (luckily, the studios for which she worked preserved her clothing and costumes). Once accounts were settled up with Uncle Sam, the jewelry flew to the four winds, often winding up--without benefit of pedigree or paperwork--in the hands of collectors.

The Gari necklace, which Pamela Martin is consigning on behalf of a collector, was known to have been made for Dietrich by Sterlé of Paris in the '30s. After that, its story is uncertain. So how does Martin calculate the sticker price?

"You look at several things. First, you appraise the value of the stones themselves. Then you identify and value the signature of the designer," says Martin. "'Period jewelry' is a phrase that describes a design group of the very best of an era--so you look for the marks of proper dating and manufacture. You make sure none of the original stones have been replaced. You also take into account what the present owner paid for it."

Martin is seeking photographs of Dietrich wearing the necklace, which is a sweeping, architectural choker that overlays a diamond-encrusted wing of platinum over a similar shape set with emeralds. If you've never tried on a trinket worth, say, three Yale diplomas, it's heavy. The collar rests solidly on the base of your neck, weighting your shoulder into a more regal posture. The overlapping centerpieces lay a wedge of extreme "bling" between your clavicles. It's something a queen might wear. Or, in America, a movie star.

"Bear in mind this stuff was only ever worn by famous people or royalty," adds the savvy businesswoman. "But I know a couple of women here in town who would really enjoy it."

Gari has brought super-jewels to town before--seven or eight years ago, they featured the collection of the Duchess of Windsor--but this necklace has special "wow" value. Even if fine period jewelry is not in the budget for this month, make a point of visiting Gari for a glimpse.


Gari
318 NW 11th Ave., (971) 544-0965
 
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