Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Reluctant Heiress' Jewels

 Later this month, the amazing collection of Huguette Clark (1906-2011)will be up for auction at Christie's. It is uncommon to have such exquisite jewelry from a single owner be offered for sale.

Huguette Clark c.1920's
Most people would not know Huguette Clark as this extremely private and fabulously wealthy American deliberately kept out of the public eye for most of her life.

She died last year at the ripe old age of 104, leaving a huge fortune with 75% ($300 million) going to charity. Nothing went to her family.

The jewelry shown here are some of the outstanding pieces from her 17-piece collection which is expected to fetch $9-12  million. Rahul Kadakia from Christie's America was astounded upon first "opening the vault to find this treasure trove of period jewels from the best French houses of the early 1900s." The jewels had been stored in the bank since the 1940's!


The most valuable pieces are a Belle Époque 9 carat rare pink diamond ring ($6-7 million) by Dreicer and Co. and a 19 carat practically flawless rectangular cut Cartier ring ($2-3 million).

Huguette Clark was the younger of 2 girls of William A. Clark and his second wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, a much younger woman and the daughter of Canadian immigrants. Clark, an industrialist and US senator during the Gilded Age, made his first fortune in mining which is why Huguette was known as the "Copper Heiress".  His fortune rivaled that of the Rockerfellers.


William Clark with his daughters in 1917
Art Deco Cartier diamond and emerald bracelets, c. 1925
Huguette's mother valued her privacy.  Clark said of her reluctance to appear in public,  "Mrs. Clark did not care for social distinction, nor the obligations that would entail upon my public life."  She was also an accomplished musician. Both William and Anna loved the arts and passed on their interests on to the girls.
Art Deco Cartier Charm bracelet c.1925

Huguette's older sister, Andrée, died of meningitis in 1919 just before she turned 17. This left a huge hole in Huguette's heart, according to family members.  She never stopped missing her sister. There were paintings in one of her mansions of her sister as if she lived past the age of 16. One of the more touching personal items for sale at the auction is the Cartier gemstone embellished picture frame. The hand-painted picture is that of Andrée.

After her elderly father died in 1925, his huge estate went to Huguette and her four half-siblings. Huguette and her mother retreated to their Fifth Avenue apartments. They eventually bought the entire 8th floor creating a 42-room, 15,000 sq ft abode, the largest apartment on the Avenue. They also had other fabulous multi-million dollar homes, Bellosguardo in Santa Barbara, California and a country retreat in Conneticut.

They were not considered peculiar people by the few who knew them - but "quiet, loving and giving women" according to the daughter of a former staff member. They apparently had their mansion in California torn down and rebuilt during the Depression despite objections from their bankers, just to give people jobs.  Almost all their staff had jobs for life.

Huguette was a gifted musician and artist in her own right. So her collections of fine art, dolls and beautiful jewelry reflected her taste and means to afford it all. However, great wealth exacted a heavy price. Huguette once said to friends that her riches were a "menace to happiness."
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In 1928, when she was 22, she married William Gower, a 23-year old law student and son of her father's associate.  The marriage lasted barely 2 years.  She claimed he deserted her while he said the marriage was never consummated.  She and her mother moved to Reno with 6 servants for several months in order to establish state residency before filing for divorce.

In 1930 a persistent photographer took a picture of her (below) on the day of her divorce.This is the last known picture of Huguette. She never remarried. 


In 1931, her name was linked to Edward Fitzgerald, the reprobate 7th Duke of Leinster, who came over to America looking for a rich wife. While he denied ever being engaged to Huguette, the pundits had a field day in newspaper cartoons  - publicity which Huguette no doubt abhorred. She gave up her opera seat and was never mentioned in society news again.

Huguette distrusted outsiders and even family members because she thought they were all after her money. She took her privacy to extreme, even conversing in French so few people could understand should they overhear. From 1930 onwards, very little is known about her life.

A family member explained that she wasn't a recluse, "She wasn't just sitting in a room herself all her life. She had a small group of friends, confidants and assistants, very small, probably fewer than five people. Her world was always very small; when Anna died (in 1963), it just became smaller."

The last 20 years of her life were spent in different hospitals. Her anonymity followed her there. Her New York hospital room was guarded and private nurses provided care. The room was even registered with an alias, "Harriet Chase". A fake number and the name Chase were taped on the door.

The year before she died, an investigative reporter, Bill Stedman, wrote a series of articles which raised awareness about the possibility of elder abuse.   Both her accountant and attorney are now under criminal investigation for their alleged mishandling of her finances. Her will is also being contested.

Even in death, her name still makes the news.

Update : Her jewelry sold for $21 million - about $10 million more than pre-auction estimates.

References 
Before You Go:
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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 

7 comments :

Susanna Originals said...

That story is so interesting and I just lost a half hour poking through your references. Another great post, Pearl.

Geneva said...

Pearl, you always dig up the most amazing historical pieces. I really enjoy reading them.

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Hollie said...

Love this story. So interesting! And I wouldn't mind a few pieces of that jewellery...beautiful. Isn't the Cartier charm bracelet gorgeous?

BetteJo said...

Just seems like such a sad life.

Pearl Blay said...

Yes, it is. As they say, money does not buy happiness.

Pearl Blay said...

Actually Hollie, I like all the bracelets!

Shaiha said...

What a sad life, pushing everyone away thinking that they were after her money. And to think that there are thoughts of abuse. No wonder she retreated so far from the world.

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