Hollywood is abuzz with the news that a cache of Tinseltown’s most recognizable trinkets are set to be auctioned off this month (March 2018).
The silver screen gems, which are just as legendary as the Hollywood stars who wore them, include two of Vivien Leigh’s necklaces from Gone with the Wind; Liz Taylor’s serpent bracelet in Cleopatra; and earrings worn by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
The famous period jewellery was created by Joseff of Hollywood, jeweller to the Hollywood studios from 1928 until his death in a plane crash in 1948. The story of how founder Eugene Joseff rose to fame is the stuff of legend itself.
Just prior to the Great Depression (1929), Joseff jettisoned a career in advertising in Chicago to seek his fortune in Los Angeles where the motion-picture industry was booming. The charismatic advertising man befriended the famous Hollywood costume designer Walter Plunkett (1902-82), who inspired Joseff to start crafting jewellery for the big studios. With an apprenticeship at a foundry to draw on, Joseff began experimenting with making jewellery in the garage of his Sunset Boulevard home.
Possessing a keen eye for detail, Joseff once quipped to a movie business friend that a film star’s gown was period correct for the historic film but her necklace was a modern design. Soon after Joseff got his chance remedy this wardrobe malfunction. According to Hollywood historian Laura Wooley, a studio needed ornaments in a hurry for a chorus-line of dancers, but no-one wanted the job except opportunity-hungry Joseff. It was a Friday and Joseff finished the job on Monday just before shooting started. Not long afterwards, Joseff became Hollywood’s ‘go-to’ jeweller.
While tinkering with trinkets, Joseff developed his trade secret: matte Russian gold-coloured plating, which minimised glare from the strong studio lights. Joseff also elevated simulated diamonds, simulated coloured gemstones and faux pearls in his creations, as typified by the necklace Katharine Hepburn wore in Mary of Scotland. Can you imagine ‘the real deal’, a multi-million dollar diamond necklace being handled on set? Hence Joseff’s replica jewellery that looks just the part. And because Joseff rented its screen gems to the studios, over 20 years it amassed a staggering collection of more than 200,000 pieces.
Joseff’s surviving wife, Joan Castle, left this luminous legacy to her daughter-in-law and grandchildren after her death in 2010. In November 2017, 500 pieces from the ingheritance were sold off, fetching prices from USD $19,000 to USD $90,000. Similar takings can be expected from the latest items to go under the hammer.
Just as Joseff of Hollywood fashioned jewellery from simulated diamonds for Hollywood’s film stars, Secrets likewise creates exquisite statement necklets from simulated diamonds and coloured gemstones for everyday stars – the likes of you and me.