Marlene Dietrich’s iconic Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond bracelet stars in the collection of the late philanthropist, interior designer and granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower
When asked by Architectural Digest in 1990 — the same year she was named one of the publication’s Top 100 designers — to describe her interior design style, Anne Eisenhower responded, ‘Traditional, but for today’s living: comfortable, with a “lived-in” look; uncluttered without appearing austere.’ As known for her humble character as for her undeniable glamour, the late philanthropist and designer approached all aspects of her life with that same sense of effortless grace.
‘She was the sort of person that when she walked into a room you noticed her, not because she was over the top, but because she sailed in and was simply an elegant presence,’ recalls Lisa Hubbard, Christie’s Jewellery Senior Advisor, who shared a decades-long friendship with Eisenhower. In addition to Anne’s ‘wicked sense of humour’, Hubbard bonded with her over a deep appreciation for jewellery. But it was only later in life that the advisor would discover her friend’s trove of treasures worn during her heyday on the New York City social scene, chockful of black-tie charity galas.
More than 30 of these jaw-dropping pieces will be featured in the Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower on 7 June during Christie’s Luxury Week in New York. Hubbard expects the public to be as awestruck as she was by the collection, which brims with ‘the big four’ — diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds — as well as exceptional historic and contemporary jewels: ‘Anne had the wherewithal to acquire incredible pieces of jewellery that once you’ve seen them, you never forget them.’
A remarkable family history, from the White House to New York
As the granddaughter of the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Mamie Doud Eisenhower, Anne was part of one of America’s most distinguished families. The only general to be elected President in the 20th century, Dwight Eisenhower was a national war hero, who led the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe while Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II.
During his two terms as President, he proved instrumental in easing Cold War tensions, as well as the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Interstate Highway System. Known as a ‘quintessential First Lady’ and ‘the nation’s hostess’, Mamie was beloved as an enthusiastic and relatable emblem of patriotism.
Born in 1949 in West Point, New York, Anne spent much of her early childhood in the White House with her siblings. During her teenage years she travelled with her grandparents on the transatlantic ocean-liner Queen Elizabeth to Europe and met French President Charles de Gaulle. Subsequent visits abroad would introduce her to dignitaries, including former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Anne’s authentic warmth endeared her to a veritable who’s who of esteemed New Yorkers and international figures.
‘Unlike my [other] siblings and me, Anne had flair, a creative orientation that flourished in her work as a designer and as an artist. She was drawn not to Washington DC like the rest of us, but to the Big Apple,’ Anne’s sister, Susan Eisenhower, tells Christie’s. ‘She was a New Yorker through and through.’
In the late 1970s after working under New York design legend Dorothy Draper, Anne Eisenhower established her eponymous firm, which specialised in traditional residential design. In addition to her Architectural Digest accolade, her work appeared on the covers of Rooms with a View: Two Decades of Outstanding American Interior Design by Chris Casson Madden and 40 Years of Fabulous: The Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse by Steven Stolman.
Anne was also an ardent philanthropist. She served on the board of Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education for 25 years. Her charitable causes included the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the American Heart Association, and Eisenhower family legacy work, among others.
Inside Anne Eisenhower’s jewellery collection
Anne may have been ‘a great New Yorker’, as her friend former mayor Michael Bloomberg described her, but her jewellery is the stuff of Hollywood legend. The star of Eisenhower’s collection is Van Cleef & Arpels’s ‘Jarretière’ ruby and diamond bracelet purchased in 1937 by none other than Marlene Dietrich. The German actress and screen siren famously wore the piece in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film, Stage Fright, followed by the 1951 Academy Awards. Eisenhower acquired the bracelet directly from Marlene Dietrich's estate in 1992, giving the jewel a doubly esteemed provenance.
‘Marlene Dietrich’s bracelet is so high drama, so Hollywood, the ultimate of everything — the greatest rubies, diamonds, mounting. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen,’ says Hubbard on what can be considered one of the most important pieces of jewellery of all time. ‘Who would have thought that Anne, who was reserved by nature, would be the one who would take it over from Marlene Dietrich?’
After purchasing the bracelet at auction, Eisenhower enlisted Van Cleef & Arpels to make a complementary necklace and earrings. All three works are being offered in this dedicated sale, along with other contemporary creations bought directly from the jewellery houses. Among Hubbard’s favourites is a sapphire and diamond ‘Waterfall’ necklace and earrings, also by Van Cleef & Arpels. ‘I’d not seen that pattern before, and they’re so flattering,’ she says. ‘They show what good jewellery is all about.’
Another historic highlight of the collection is Tiffany & Co.’s diamond and multi-gem ‘Moonlight Rose’ bracelet, which dates to circa 1925. During the Art Deco period, monochromatic geometric designs reigned supreme, making this jewel’s use of coloured stones and its pictorial design extremely rare.
‘This is a beautifully executed piece of jewellery. It reminds me of a Chinese scroll painting. It’s miniature art,’ says Hubbard, praising the ingenious use of buff-top rubies that form the flower and a rose-cut diamond that represents the moon. ‘For Anne to have both the staggeringly gutsy Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet next to this quiet Tiffany & Co. one, she had all-encompassing taste and saw merit across the board.’
It’s rare for an impeccable eye to be matched in generosity and character, but Anne Eisenhower was just that. As her granddaughter Camila Mendoza tells Christie’s, ‘While these jewels are indeed breath-taking, my grandmother is the real gem that we are celebrating today — and that we will celebrate always.’
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