Woolf Barnato (1896-1948)
Known as 'Babe', Woolf Barnato was the grandson of Isaac Isaacs, a shopkeeper living in the East end of London. At the age of 21, Isaac's son Barnett, who changed his name to Barnato, left for South Africa with 25 pounds in his pocket to join his brother and make his fortune in the Kimberley diamond mines. Barnett became extraordinarily wealthy but many years later when returning to England by ship, accompanied with his two-year-old son Woolf, he disappeared over the side. Woolf ultimately inherited his father fortune after a seven-year legal battle.
His cash helped to stave off bankruptcy for the original Bentley Company, for which he became a glamorous promotional hero. Driving his huge six-and-half-liter car, he won the grueling Le Mans 24-hour endurance race three times between 1928 and 1930. His three successive wins have never been equaled, one of them as a result of leading the race from start to finish. Some still consider him the finest road driver in racing history, and his victories over the super-charged seven-liter Mercedes are acknowledged as classic triumphs of strategy and daring.
Barnato was married three times, his third marriage lasting only a few months before he died in 1948.
He could never resist a challenge. In March 1931, he backed himself to race the Train Bleu from Cannes to Paris in one of his Bentleys, and won by four hours, driving non-stop. Le Train Bleu was a nickname, as much for the color of the cars as to the destination - from the gray skies of Paris to the brilliant blue skies of the Cote d'Azur. It is this subject which is represented in the vanity case by Van Cleef & Arpels and the Train Bleu, realized in sapphires