Property Formerly from the Collection of Lady Mendl, Elsie de Wolfe
A flamboyant woman with a natural sense of grace and style, Elsie de Wolfe is credited as being the first American interior designer. Born in 1865 in New York City, Elsie began to make her mark at the age of twenty, when she traveled to Europe to finish her education and was presented to Queen Victoria at court. Elsie made the rounds of British society and befriended some of the most influential women in these circles.
After her continental travels, Elsie returned to New York City and set up house with her friend, Elizabeth "Bessie" Marbury in an Irving Place brownstone. Using her personal style, she transformed the dark and heavy Victorian interior, to a thoroughly modern, bright and airy home. It was here that she hosted lavish parties attended by New York's highest society: the Astors, Hewitts, Vanderbilts and Waldorfs. Her parties successfully mingled both high society and Broadway actors. People loved to attend and often asked her for decorating and hosting tips. Soon, instead of giving free advice, Elsie began charging clients for her services.
In June of 1916, Elsie joined the war effort and traveled to France as a volunteer nurse. As a result of her bravery and service, she was awarded a Croix de Guerre and later the Legion of Honor by the French government. She later commissioned the House of Cartier to reproduce these medals in miniature. After the War, she resumed her decorating career in Europe. She gained prestigious clients including Cole Porter and his wife, Linda. It was at one of their parties that she was introduced to Sir Charles Mendl, whom she married in 1926, at age 61.
Elsie lived an interesting and full life complete with travel and leisure activities. She was a great collector of jewelry and fashion and in 1935 was voted "The Best Dressed Woman in the World". On her second trip to India, after viewing some of the most opulent and beautiful jewels of the maharajahs, Elsie bought several necklaces set with precious stones and pearls. She made a special trip to the jewelry bazaar, when she selected an assortment of loose sapphires to make into jewelry at home.
When Elsie de Wolfe passed away in 1950, she left the majority of her jewelry and possessions to Hilda West, her trusted assistant of thirty years. West, in turn, bequeathed this necklace to her niece, Ruth Ritchie, who passed it to her niece, the current owner.
The sapphire and diamond necklace by René Boivin is an excellent example of the creativity and glamour of the prestigious French firm. Created between 1936-38 it is cast in silver, which was rare, but not uncommon, for Boivin. The highly flexible bib is entirely set with cabochon sapphires in a range of vivid blue and violet hues, giving it an almost "watery" appearance. The back chain is composed of diamond "fishscale" links, a frequently used motif of Boivin. The necklace bears no hallmarks or maker's mark as Madame Boivin felt that her designs spoke for themselves. It is not surprising that Elsie was an admirer of Boivin's works and a well documented client. Madame Boivin, widely considered the first female jeweler, undoubtedly appealed to Elsie's love of jewelry, appreciation of style and early feminism.
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF RUTH RITCHIE
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Christie's would like to thank Madame Françoise Cailles for her assistance in researching this piece