March 16, 2023—Few actresses have smoldered on screen and in photos like Marlene Dietrich. The star knew lighting, how to work her angles and melted the lens. Jewelry was one of the props she used effectively throughout her career to make the pictures more potent.
Dietrich’s extraordinary ruby and diamond Van Cleef & Arpels Jarretière bracelet, which she wore in countless photos, on-screen and out on the town, is being offered at Christie’s in New York on June 7 in the single owner sale The Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower. The estimate for the bracelet is $2,500,000-$4,500,000. An interior designer and the granddaughter of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, Anne purchased the jewel at the auction of Dietrich’s estate in 1992.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Jarretière bracelet became famous to movie fans who saw it in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 murder mystery Stage Fright. Dietrich flaunted the jewel in her role as an actress who has driven her young lover, Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), to murder her husband in a fit of jealous agitation.
In one of the most explosive scenes, Dietrich tells an enraged Todd to leave the country as she attaches a Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond clip brooch to her diamond necklace. When he announces he has not destroyed the blood-soaked dress that would implicate her in the crime, she nervously puts on her matching ruby and diamond Jarretière bracelet. Watch in the trailer below, the moment happens about one minute in to the clip.
The trailer for Stage Fright (1950)
Louis Arpels, a principal of Van Cleef & Arpels, made the jewel in 1937 out of several ruby and diamond pieces Dietrich had in her collection. The rumor about Arpels and Dietrich is that they had a love affair. While the romance has never been confirmed, the correspondence between the two has been described by people who have read the notes as “intimate.”
When my long-time colleague Penny Proddow, got a hands on look at the Jarretière while we were having it photographed for our book Hollywood Jewels, after she studied the ginormous piece, her spontaneous remark was “My god he must have loved her.”
The huge cushion-cut ruby disk on the bracelet is rimmed with baguette-cut diamonds. The buckle portion of the jewel includes baguette, rectangular and pavè-set diamonds.
Attached to the bracelet are twin tapering circular and baguette-cut diamond bands, the flexibility of which can be seen in the video clip. The underside of the ruby disk is a flaring pavè-set diamond cone shape that rises to turreted motifs, accented by baguette-cut diamonds. The jewel is mounted in platinum.
Throughout history Van Cleef & Arpels has created other phenomenal Jarretière bracelets. The Duchess of Windsor had a diamond and sapphire rendition made in 1937. She wore hers on her wedding day. Van Cleef & Arpels made the bracelet as a sparkly play on a bride’s garter or jarretière which is the French word for the piece of lingerie.
On Dietrich, the concept of a jarretière goes from bridal to bombshell. Her jewel may not be as refined as the Duchess’ but it is definitely bolder. No other Jarretière had the height and the depth the conical back portion of the jewel provided. The exceptional quality of the bracelet was recognized in the hammer price for the piece when it sold for $990,000 at Sotheby’s in 1992 which was more than triple the low estimate of $300,000.
Shortly after her jewel was created in 1937, Dietrich wore it on evenings out on the town and to the theater. She also wore it to the 1951 Oscars.
According to family tradition among all the jewels in her collection, the Jarretière bracelet held a special place in her heart. Perhaps a sign of a love affair? That is one jewelry mystery that may never be solved.