The tale of “one of the most captivating and enduring pieces of jewelry,” which would “crawl into the world of collectors and jewelers to enchant and confound them” for more than eight decades.
When Burns wrote a biography of Millicent Rogers (Searching for Beauty, 2011, etc.), she was especially intrigued by one particular item in her subject’s jewelry collection: a hand-sized starfish that featured “71 cabochon rubies and 241 small amethysts.” Certainly expensive, it was more valuable for its rarity and perfection. Only three were originally made in the 1930s and perhaps two more later. The mystery begins with an exclusive jeweler in Paris, Boivin. There, Juliette Moutard had solid relationships with a variety of designers and workshops that met the demand for beautiful and well-designed pieces. They were so special that they were never signed; the jeweler knew that the pieces’ quality would prove their origin. Burns knew that Rogers had one of the starfish and held it for more than 70 years. Another was said to have been purchased by Claudette Colbert, a movie star well known for her magnificent jewels. Supposedly, she lost hers. As she searched for clues to the location of the starfish, the author discovered the very private world of jewelry sales. It is a business that pays little attention to provenance, unless a famous person, like Elizabeth Taylor, owned a particular piece. Equally tight lipped are the exclusive jewelers—e.g., Siegelson and Verdura—and brokers who are approached with pieces when owners suffer a death, bankruptcy, or divorce and must sell. Getting information from top jewelers is a challenge at best. As the author notes, there are other starfish, some with emeralds and sapphires, but the three originals are the subject of a long and frustrating search.
Quick, fun, easy reading for devotees of high fashion and mystery fans, complete with wrong turns and false friends.