We will all (or is this just me?) be focused on red carpet Oscar jewelry choices on Sunday. But how did those diamonds and emeralds and the odd tourmaline end up being a Ryan Seacrest question in the first place? It was Katharine Hepburn. Harry Winston helped.
Hepburn wore fifteen 17th-century emeralds and 374 diamonds on the red carpet in 1947 in the form of a necklace Harry Winston let her borrow for the evening. It was an historic piece, one that is now on exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. They call it the Spanish Inquisition necklace though no one knows exactly why; it has nothing to do with that chapter in history. But it did perhaps at one point belong to Spanish royalty.
The fifteen prized Colombian emeralds were shipped back to Spain by conquistadors; they were cut and polished in India; and before Harry Winston owned it, the necklace belonged to the Maharajah of Indore. (Winston toured the piece in its famous Court of Jewels traveling exhibition of rare jewels, including the Hope Diamond, in the early 1950s and sold the Spanish necklace to Pittsburgh’s Cora Hubbard Williams in 1955. She bequeathed it to the Smithsonian in 1972.)
Hepburn in a rare, museum-worthy necklace would certainly make news, and Instagram feeds, today—historic jewels like Lady Gaga’s Tiffany Diamond last year, or 2000’s Hillary Swank in a nineteenth century diamond Asprey bib that once belonged to Queen Victoria’s daughters, tend to do that—but in the 1940s, Winston’s loan to Hepburn signaled a seismic shift in the relationship between Hollywood and jewelry. The idea of the jewelry loan to a celebrity for a red carpet appearance, now standard practice and the cornerstone of an industry, was a novel one then.
And Harry Winston, who pioneered red carpet jewelry loans with this emerald necklace and with jewelry for actress Jennifer Jones's appearance at the 1944 Oscars, is still at it. Now, when a Winston piece appears, you have some jewelry trivia to share.
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