Updated: Jul 9, 2020
The ruby and diamond cuff honors a famed piece the actress wore in Stage Fright.
Marlene Dietrich famously loved her jewels, and perhaps none more so than a ruby and diamond bracelet crafted for her by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1937. It was dubbed the “Jarretière” cuff – the word translates to “garter,” and you can see that in the design, which indeed resembles the buckle that clips to a woman’s stocking. Dietrich likely found such an idea irresistible.
The stylish star had been longtime friends with Louis Arpels, who joined his brothers in the family’s jewelry firm in 1912, and his wife Hélène, making the iconic house a natural choice when Dietrich decided to convert some gems in her collection to a new piece. According to her grandson, literary agent Peter Riva, Dietrich presented Van Cleef & Arpels with roughly 30 different jewels, a mix of earrings, necklaces and bracelets in diamonds and rubies: “[novelist] Erich Maria Remarque, at that time a companion of my grandmother, suggested to her that she take all her bits of jewelry and make them into one fabulous piece,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1992. The Jarretière was the result, crafted of cushion-shaped rubies to create a bold loop that wraps around baguette and round diamonds, which also embellish the cuff’s articulated strap; the entire piece is mounted in platinum.
Dietrich loved the piece and was photographed wearing it often, notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film noir, Stage Fright, in which she plays Charlotte Inwood, a diva actress who persuades her lover to take the rap alone for her husband’s murder. Dietrich famously demanded to wear designs by Christian Dior in the film, and while her perscnal jewelry ollection included pieces by Cartier, Trabert & Hoeffer/ Mauboussin and others, it was the Jarretière cuff that she chose to wear in Hitchcock’s film. But according to Riva, Dietrich rarely wore the piece again after Stage Fright, preferring to store it in a vault.
Fast-forward 83 years, and Van Cleef & Arpels has debuted an homage to Dietrich’s famous cuff. The updated design was released last week as part of the high-jewelry presentations that typically take place in Paris this time each year (rather than in-person events, of course, most high-jewelry launches are happening virtually as businesses undergo the slow and measured process of reopening around the globe).
Over the years Van Cleef & Arpels has looked to Dietrich’s bracelet as inspiration to create new pieces, including a design that was part of a 60-piece “Treasure of Rubies” high-jewelry collection in 2019. But this latest cuff is just one of three one-of-a-kind pieces in this high-jewelry collection, which takes its cue from a trio of designs from the house’s archives, each highlighting a specific stone: emeralds, rubies or diamonds. Thus Dietrich’s cuff proved to be the perfect jumping-off point for the collection’s “Rubis en scène” bracelet – translation: “Rubies on stage.”
Like the piece that inspired it, the updated design indeed is a fitting showcase for the gemstone. A total of 72 matching Burmese rubies, weighing 84.74 carats, were collected by the gemologists at Van Cleef & Arpels; the stones have been recut into cushion shapes to mimic the original design, but set in rose gold, vs. the original platinum, to enhance each ruby’s natural hue. The two semicircles of rubies sit atop an openwork bracelet of 18-karat white gold and platinum, embellished with round, square-shaped and baguette-cut diamonds. And while a previous Marlene-inspired bracelet of diamonds and rubies set in rose gold reportedly was offered by Van Cleef & Arpels for $1.76 million, this one-of-a-kind piece is priced upon request.
But what happened to Dietrich’s original Jarretière? The actress sold many of her jewels over the years – reportedly to pay the taxman, Peter Riva says – but she couldn’t part with her favorite cuff. Following Stage Fright, she was seen wearing the piece only once, with a black Dior gown at the 1951 Academy Awards, where she presented an honorary foreign-language film award:
The Jarretière cuff finally went to auction at Sotheby’s in October 1992, a little more than five months after the actress’s death in May of that year. The piece was estimated to fetch between $300,000 and $400,000, but ultimately sold for $990,000 to a private collector. While we may never know who purchased the original, surely Marlene Dietrich would enjoy the idea that her favorite piece of jewelry lives on in new designs.