Q&A with the Curator of Jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Hollywood's Red Carpet Jeweler, Neil Lane
By Heidi Legg
Hollywood is awash in glitter, glamour, and experimentation this week as stylists, designers, and jewelers clamor for influence the two weeks in between the Grammy’s and the Academy Awards. Back in Boston, February doldrums have set in with sub-zero temperatures leaving the pale northeast native scavenging for morsels of color in salt-stained boots and tired winter coats that shed feathers. Where could there possibly be a crossover?
In an unusual pairing of scholarly study and Hollywood performance, Emily Stoehrer, the Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will watch closely this week as her dissertation subject, jeweler to the stars Neil Lane, adorns everyone from Madonna to Jennifer Lawrence on the Red Carpet. Yes, he is the same celebrity who appears on the Bachelor with designer engagement rings and who lent his name to Kay Jewelers to supply the masses. Yet, Stoehrer takes pause on what she says is a dual legacy of collector and marketing genius, and narrows in on the one legacy she covets and labels as a magnificent collection with some of the most important pieces from the 20th Century. I sat down with the two of them, separately, to discover how this Hollywood jeweler to the stars built his collection and how he has caught the stern eye of one of the great institutions long run by Boston Brahmin blue-blood elite.
Neil, this is our most glamorous interview yet.
N: It is, for me.
Thank you for making the time.
N: I’ll do anything. No, we're not busy. No, we're really not. We only have 350 pieces of jewelry out for the Academy Awards.
Emily Stoehrer from the blue-blood bastion of Boston’s MFA is studying your work from a scholarly angle. What do you think of this?
N: Isn't this crazy? Emily decides to do her thesis on me and she says, ‘you did this and that by yourself and you don't have any backing. You didn't have any money. How did you do this?' If I had been schlepping around in Paris at four o'clock in the morning at the flea markets in the bitter cold because I thought I was going to be rich and famous – are you crazy?
But I loved it. I was fascinated by this stuff, going to Kovel’s Antiques to understand what the hell I had found. ‘Oh look, there's a mark on the bottom.’ I didn't know things had been marked on the bottom. I had the best time. You have to understand before I got serious about business, I was the most carefree happy guy in the world. I was going out to the Bowery with other artists and I was garbage picking. I was painting. I was exhibiting. I didn't have to worry about my art being sold because I was making money at the flea market selling vintage posters.
How did you originally start collecting vintage jewels?
N: I started collecting things people threw out on the street. They weren't even called 'collectibles.' There was no name for it because it was mostly junk and, as a little kid, I was fascinated by it. I was fascinated by my neighborhood, by the old people and the old houses. When I started college, it became a hobby. I was painting and drawing at art school and I started selling all these things I’d found at the flea market. When I made enough money, the first thing I did was go to Paris. That's where I learned Western Art, where I discovered the whole world of Paris and the whole world of the Art Nouveau. I started collecting very, very slowly and carefully because I didn't have the means to collect.
What was the price range?
N: I was buying biscuit tins for fifteen dollars. I was buying little 19th century Victorian tins in which they kept sewing needles for ten dollars. I was buying little bronzes for thirty-five dollars. It was only when I started buying graphics and posters from the 19th Century that I saw the business opportunity. I wasn't buying Toulouse Lautrec posters or Alphonse Mucha ones. They looked like Toulouse Lautrec and nobody really wanted them in Paris. I was the first guy to bring them back in America, and it became very popular in the 1970s or '80s. When you see all these restaurants that have these graphic posters, I was that guy.
Were the posters only a means to the jewelry?
N: I lived in a loft in Manhattan before I moved here, and clients would come see the posters - it was very easy to sell them.
With the jewelry, I was still in my aesthetic stage and I was looking for interesting things. I wasn't necessarily looking for platinum and diamonds. I wouldn't have understood it. I was still more aesthetically involved in Art Nouveau and the nuance of lines. In London, I learned about Merle Bennett and Liberty & Company and Archibald & Knox. It was lots of bits of silver with little blue enamels and little vases and cigarette cases that were fifty dollars to 100 pounds. In Paris I would go around to the antique shops and look around for little bits of gold Art Nouveau. If I told you how I developed my eye, it was because I didn't have any money.
It sounds like the famous 10,000-hour rule coined by Malcolm Gladwell.
N: It was a process. If I saw something at a flea market, let's say a two-handle vase and it was $100, I didn't buy it because I wasn't sure. Then I went on to the next booth twenty feet away and I saw something similar and that was also $100, and I kept seeing something similar. Before I'd spent $100, I really needed to teach myself about what I was buying. Let's say a couple hours later I saw something for $300 and it had three handles instead of two handles – that’s how I taught myself. I kept on looking and looking and looking and looking before I spent the money.
I didn't have a teacher. I didn't really have a mentor. I studied at the Art Students League and I studied with some well known artists, but in jewelry, I had no mentor. I learned by looking and then I bought books. I bought every book that ever came out on jewelry whether it was fifty dollars, thirty-five dollars, or seventy dollars. That’s something I did that other people didn't. I absorbed the images. I didn't have a clue coming from Brooklyn what a piece of jewelry with a maker's mark on it meant. I didn't know anything like that. I learned and learned and learned. What you said about the 10,000 hours, I think I probably put fifty billion hours in it.
Emily, why did you decide to study Neil Lane?
E: I first met Neil six years ago as he prepared to give a lecture on his collection at the MFA when I was a curatorial research fellow there. I was the assistant to Yvonne Markowitz who was then the jewelry curator. After that, he and I would talk on the phone and he'd ask me for my opinion.
How did you come to do your thesis on his work?
E: Yvonne had known Neil forever. They had gone to jewelry camp together in Orono, Maine, which was started by Ruth and Dr. Joe Sataloff in 1979, who was very fond of and friendly with Yvonne. Years later, in 2012, when I was choosing my dissertation topic, he came up in conversation. The conversation was around how he had this amazing collection and that he was doing this really interesting thing in Hollywood and on the red carpet creating an interest in vintage jewels. At the same time, the average consumer of red carpet images doesn't necessarily know they're seeing vintage jewelry. They have to dig a little bit to realize that what he's showing as the Neil Lane collection is actually, oftentimes, very historic.
When you met, Neil had already been in LA a long time. When do you see his work and the red carpet intersect?
E: Jewelry was really becoming more and more prominent on the red carpet and I didn’t know why. It was interesting in my research to explore this, which brought me to LA and led me to significant research into the Jewelers Circular Keystone (JCK), an industry periodical like Women's Wear Daily. Basically in the 1990s a group called the Diamond Information Center decided that Hollywood would be a good place to disseminate jewelry as a way to get Americans to want to wear more diamond jewelry. They arrive on the scene and one of the few jewelers was Neil Lane with his small booth in an antique center. The Diamond Information Center really helped him to access that world.
He was also showing something totally different. I interviewed stylist Rachel Zoe – the biggest – and she talked about how Neil's jewels often were appealing to her clients because they were different and bold. I think that because there was this commercialism creeping into Hollywood, vintage jewelry or fashion also offered an 'other.' It was something that seemed somehow not commercial and something where you could be one of a kind and unique because the jewels were one of a kind. At the time of my thesis, Neil was already working for Kay Jewelers and Jared, and many people knew him for those mainstream commercial ventures. Even today, people don't necessarily know the many layers that he's working on nor about his work as an artist.
Once people started buying your work, did you know you were becoming a movement in Hollywood?
N: Oh, my God. No. No. If you had said to me years ago that one day you're going to be in Hollywood designing jewels, not only selling them to the most famous people in the world, the most beautiful, and being involved in red carpets and being with Kay Jewelers and designing rings for America, I would've probably said, 'you're crazy. You're nuts. I don't want to do that.'
Early on you worked with Madonna. How did that come to be?
N: Madonna has probably been my biggest muse. I have worked with Madonna for probably eighteen years. I created the giant M for her for the Gap campaign. Again, it was collaboration. She wasn't going to just give me this gig for the Gap thing. She really wanted to see if I could handle it and she had every jeweler in the world on the trailer sets. But I kept on coming up with more jewels and more designs and more jewels. She was the first one to take jeans upscale and she did it with Missy Elliott for Gap.
The Saturday before the shoot, I had these two diamond necklaces on her neck and she was looking in the mirror at the studio. It was like kismet. She said, 'I need something. Something's missing' and I think it was her – I give her the credit –– ‘it needs a giant M' and that night I kept the workshop open and we made a giant diamond M. That became such a huge rage and she wore her M everywhere afterward.
Are all the stones Neil uses vintage?
E: Sometimes. That’s really how he got started and I've been interested in the Hollywood red carpet story of his career. Celebrities would either be drawn to old stones or old settings and he would sometimes make a ring around a stone that he was given or had found for them, or find a stone for a ring that they had. Or he designed one inspired by things that he had in his shop. For him, it’s always been a mix of old and new and the complexity of it is what I think defines him.
Is the motivation to use antique jewels politically motivated for these film stars?
N: I don't think they came to me for that reason. When I started doing the red carpets, that did not come up – even when I did start to design jewelry, I was actually using old stones. Living in Paris, that was my aesthetic. I didn't have a contemporary design because I'm living in the contemporary but my aesthetic was something from the past. When I stated to design, the word 'vintage' didn't exist out here, Heidi. I started using it but it didn't really exist. Now it has a meaning but it didn't before. No one really can define vintage. If you ask someone who's twenty-one what vintage is – ‘I don't know. It looks old and it's cool.'
I first came to Hollywood with a bag of antique jewelry and I started working with a lot of young people in Hollywood. Red carpets weren't as popular and they certainly didn't have so many starlets. They didn't have Netflix or all these content players. The biggest movie stars when I came here were Barbra Streisand and Goldie Hawn. And Goldie Hawn used to bring her daughter Kate as a little girl to my little counter to try on jewelry. When Kate got engaged for the first time to Chris Robinson, her ring came from me.
These young starlets were reverting back to the 1950s, and jewelers like Harry Winston loved putting these big diamond necklaces on these girls. I could see something was wrong. Before that, you would see Armani, the king of the red carpets, with very simple jewelry like a diamond bracelet: a line bracelet, diamond studs, or a diamond bar broach. I'm not talking about Elizabeth Taylor but the young starlets. I started making diamond chains, Edwardian chains, and I made colorful earrings in a Renaissance style and a Victorian style and the people I was dealing with asked me, 'could we wear that? Could we borrow that?' At that time, I didn't understand anything about loaning jewelry. It's a long history.
When we look at Neil through his public persona, there is this dichotomy. As a curator of historic jewelry owned by royalty and major collectors, how do you deal with this?
E: It’s been interesting to do this research and dive into the '90s and 2000s because you see that fashion does things first and then jewelry takes a few years to catch up. If we look ten years ago, we saw a lot of fashion designers doing capsule collections and putting their name along with Target or H & M in the same way Neil Lane put his name with Kay Jewelers and Jared. He's making his name available to a much larger audience because before that his brand was so exclusive. He still has that exclusivity in his own high-end designs, and in many ways the vintage jewels are his babies and what really inspires all of his other work.
What do you think Emily is capturing?
N: She’s recognizing something in me that I don't really spend much time thinking about. What she's saying to me is ‘Neil, do you realize that you have a profound effect on fashion and the jewelry industry? Do you realize that?’ And I think she's wanted to chronicle it and try to understand it.
From my perspective, I might say, ‘Okay, I see that. I see that my years in France, my years of studying vintage and the aesthetic and creating diamond rings have really altered the whole bridal scene in America.' I can see, yes, that my coming to Hollywood changed the aesthetic. People are more comfortable wearing color on the red carpet and wearing different things. Yes. But for me it's just my journey and someone talking about it is pleasant. As a human being, your whole life is captured in three seconds. Your brain can see everything in fifty seconds from the beginning. I see myself as a little boy in Brooklyn; I see him going to Paris; I see myself at the flea markets. It's all very quick. But it did take years and years and years to get here.
Emily, what will be Neil’s legacy?
E: I believe he has a dual legacy. First, he has a legacy as a collector who lends his things to important museum exhibitions. We had some jewelry here last fall and he's lent more recently to an exhibition in Chicago. Then there is the legacy of commercial Jared and Kay Jewelers and the Bachelor where you actually see Neil Lane and you see some of his own designs.
For many people, they'll remember him that way and think of him as this celebrity jeweler and a celebrity in his own right with his appearances on TV. But for museum-goers, and someone interested in the history of jewelry, he's assembled this magnificent collection with some of the most important pieces from the 20th Century. These collector pieces have all kinds of tangible memories of Hollywood history or jewelry history and that's the story I'd like more people to know about.
What do you mean by 'assemble'?
E: I'll tell you what you see when you walk into Neil's shop. In 2007, he opened his eponymous shop on Melrose. When you go into his shop in West Hollywood, it's hard to know what you're seeing because he's really created this mix of historical jewels. He has intact-signed pieces by makers of some of the most important in jewelry history: Tiffany & Company, Marcus & Company, Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, Paul Flato. He has collected all of these really important makers, and his own designs are mixed in with that and as you're looking at a case, you often don't know what's his and what are a hundred or more years old. [Former MFA Curator of Art, Yvonne Markowitz wrote a book on Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin]
Is it a polished, glossy store?
E: Yes. You're in a totally polished, glossy store with cases full of jewelry. It’s a small shop and there are cases on both sides, and then there's a case along the wall in the back with jewelry on both sides where he highlights the Neil Lane Collection – it has some of the most magnificent pieces that have been lent to museums and that have been seen on the red carpet. You’ll see necklaces that Jennifer Garner wore or you'll see the rock crystal and diamond necklace that Jennifer Lawrence wore, and pieces like that. You'll see Lady Gaga's bracelet that she just wore to the Golden Globes.
Did he make all of the pieces in his collection?
E: Some of them he designed. Neil is an extraordinary designer. Some of them he collected. It's a real mix. They’re all equally important to him and they're all part of the story, and it's this very mysterious mix. Even after chronicling him now for more than two years, I still can't always tell if I'm looking at one of his designs or one of the pieces in his collection. He designs them and he has a fabricator who makes the ones that he’s designed.
Have you seen his collection of books?
E: I have. It is impressive and I think that in many ways, he's a scholar. He's really studied, not only jewelry, but what's in some ways more interesting to me is he’s studied how people wear jewelry.
Neil, do you still own all your jewelry books?
N: I have so many books I don't know what to do with them. Books for me, like Emily Dickinson from Amherst, Massachusetts said, 'there's no frigate like a book.’ This whole book to take you on a journey, to show you the whole world – these books for me and the world of jewels were everything. They introduced me to glamour. They introduced me to people like Suzanne Belperron and to things I never understood.
Emily, are there artists in other industries that remind you of Neil?
E: I think one of the reasons that he's been so successful is this intense knowledge of jewelry history and of the way jewelry's been used historically in Hollywood.
He’s a jeweler to the stars and it’s this term that's been used over and over again throughout the 20th Century. He aligns himself with those people like Paul Flato or Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin who were important providers of jewelry to film stars, but what he's doing is different.
When Flato started he also sold both historic jewels and contemporary. I don't know what his shop was set up like and how those things were mixed together. Even if we go further back in history to some other jewelers that Neil is particularly interested in like Fortunato Pio Castellani, an important jewelry family in Rome doing revival style jewels, they also had a mix in their shop of old and new because they were doing ancient replicas as things were being unearthed on archaeological digs. In Tuscany, they were sometimes copying them and they might have the real and the copy in the same shop. In some way, I think Neil aligns himself with those great jewelers of the past.
When were the other times when societies went through a 'jewelry moment' like we are in today?
E: When I think of Neil and his inspiration, I immediately think of the Hollywood of the '30s and ‘40s, which is golden era Hollywood. The jewelry from that era, some of which is in Neil's collection, is big and bold in the same way that the successful jewels on the red carpet are today. You can see the same scale, and I think that that's something Neil learned from looking at jewelry. He particularly liked this period that coincided with Hollywood's great history.
What about historical examples in other countries? The Medicis? Or ancient Egypt?
E: For Neil, there is a real break between jewelry used by the aristocracy where the jewelry was handed down, and glamour. For him, that aristocratic jewelry was all about wealth and power and with those glamour jewels, it's all about this performance quality – this self-fashioning and a way in which anyone can participate. These Hollywood actresses may not have been raised where they were accustomed to wearing jewelry, but now they have this status and they're dripping in diamonds.
You work at one of the most blue blood institutions in the country and yet, we are talking about Neil Lane and the Hollywood red carpet. Does this surprise you?
E: It's interesting. Boston is typically not a place where you see a lot of flashy jewels – except at the MFA. We're actually the first museum in the country to have a full time curator of jewelry, and that's thanks to Susan Kaplan who endowed my position in her family foundation. Susan has been really involved with the museum with her passion and love of jewelry for many years, and it's actually a conversation with her that led me to think about doing my dissertation on Neil's collection.
I think we're doing something really exciting and different in Boston. While Boston traditionally doesn't have this reputation for being interested in jewelry, I think that we've broken that stereotype here at the museum. People come here and they're almost immediately met with our jewelry gallery and it's become a real hot spot in the museum. I think people are really eager to see what we're collecting and what we're doing.
Neil, if any of your pieces go into a museum, which piece would you choose?
N: The things that I've done in America - I think the things I created for Madonna on all her stage shows and all the M’s and the jewel that I created for her Rebel Heart Tour. I created an amazing jewel for her. I might give you a picture with that. I've never given that to anyone. The picture she used on her album is her face wrapped up in cords. You'll see it. It's white. I took that idea of wrapping it in cords with string and I took the rebel heart motif. I created a heart wrapped up in strings and diamonds and then I used celestial material. I used meteorite to create it so it would give it energy. It's called Rebel Heart.
Do you have an edge in the industry?
N: I've taken things that people never really used in fine jewelry and I've elevated it. One day Angelina Jolie was in the shop some years ago and I said, 'wow, I'm doing a dual project with Namibia.' She said, 'what?' And I said, 'yeah, I found this celestial material that landed in Namibia millions of years ago and I'm making jewelry out of it with gold and I'm using gold from Africa.' And then she commissioned me to make a ring for Brad Pitt.
I would say it’s not about the glamour jewels I've done. It's about what I've done creatively – taking things that people didn't really use in fine jewelry like rough diamonds or meteorite balls that I carved like pearls and then illuminated them. They were iron and nickel and they looked pretty dull, but I plated them platinum. Iron and nickel cool at different degrees and so it had this 90-degree angle effect. Then I carved them. They looked like silver balls and I strung them up platinum. I put these rough diamonds with pure diamonds, white diamonds and I made one necklace like that and I sold it with De Beers at $150,000 dollars and it was amazing. So, I think that's something. Maybe that's a legacy.
What has this level of success done to your work?
N: It has given me more monetary means to do things to expand my aesthetics: like in a house, to design the walls, to design the handle on the door. It has enabled me to be more creative.
Do you know how many jewels I made for Johnny Depp for the Pirates of the Caribbean? When Jennifer Hudson won her first Oscar for Dreamgirls, she's holding her Oscar and kissing it and I made her this giant ring from my De Beers collection based on a Gustav Klimt mosaic. You see this giant colored diamond ball of a ring.
I've had so many amazing things on the red carpet. Recently, there’s Madonna’s video with her glamorous-Marilyn-Monroe look that opens her new tour. We went back through hundreds and hundreds of images and then we shipped all these pieces to her and I get this call… 'Hey Neil, do you mind if we take all this jewelry and drip it in blood? It won't really hurt the jewelry. It's like corn syrup and blood.' I didn't know what the hell they were saying and they had to know because they were filming at four o' clock in the morning, so I emailed back, 'I think it's okay – if you wash it off.' She's very inventive. She's quite collaborative. She took this whole glamorous thing from the 1990s with the Marilyn Monroe and the diamonds and platinum hair and she twisted it where it became sort of macabre and blood from the diamonds and it was crazy. It was crazy.
Emily, you treat this glamour world of Hollywood with respect. What do you see as a scholar?
E: I think that Hollywood has been given more respect over the years from an academic perspective. I think that there's been recent scholarship on fashion in Hollywood and yet almost all of those authors aren't interested in jewelry. I think that jewelry history, as a subject, is completely new as an academic discipline. For many people who aren't paying attention to auctions or museum exhibitions on jewelry, the red carpet is their lens. It's a place where they confront jewelry, even if it's so unattainable. It's this imaginary dream world that Hollywood's always been so brilliant at creating and the fact that Neil has disseminated historical jewelry on the red carpet has given it this weight.
When those same pieces come into the museum, you really see the singularity of these objects and the importance from a social and historical perspective, as well as a material culture perspective closely related to jewelry's history.
What about jewelry captivates us?
E: It does have that quality and it has forever. There was recently a book that came out called Stoned, and the author brings back elements of history that you might not associate with jewelry. If you look at human history, you see jewelry is deeply rooted to it. It is this kind of human urge to adorn that's somehow bigger than us. I think its rarity makes it seductive – the way that it occurs naturally on the earth and the artisan comes and takes those pieces and makes it something really brilliant.
Why do people self-decorate – either with jewels, tattoos, etc?
E: I think over the course of human history there are many different reasons why people have adorned themselves. Even when people can't afford diamonds, you see them wearing other things such as paste or during the studio movement in the late 20th Century, they wore all kinds of found materials. I think that it signifies wealth and power. I think that it is often a token of affection. There are these memories that you carry with you of being given a certain piece of jewelry to celebrate an event or a relationship. I think there's often some kind of magical or amuletic quality to it, even religious meaning. And the red carpet gives us an opportunity to look at jewelry and fashion and how they function together.
For a trained eye like yours, how do you measure what you put in collections?
E: You have to handle a lot of jewelry to be able to get to a point where you can know that and someone like Neil, who's been in the jewelry business forever, has handled more jewelry than almost anybody else in the world. Part of it is looking at the quality of the jewel and the manufacture of it: How flexible is it? How smart is the design? How does it fit on the body in a way that makes sense? For example, this big flower bracelet that I had mentioned before that he has in his collection by Flato looks like it should be very top heavy and that it wouldn't sit nicely on the wrist, but the design is such that it's oval-shaped and so it fits perfectly on the wrist and you get this beautiful corsage resting there and you have to touch it, you have to handle it, you have to try it on to know the brilliance of the design.
For Neil and for the museum, we're also always looking for those jewels that tell a great story: Who owned this? Who wore it? How did it end up here?
I once handled a bracelet in Vienna with square jewels, moss colored stones set in gold. I was in my 20s and it was $400 and I didn't buy it. It haunts me as though I’ve left something of mine behind. Can you explain the emotional connection to time that jewelry has?
N: I don't know what it is with jewelry but, for me, it's only with jewelry. It's visceral and it could be from the sparkling thing. It could be from the glitter. When I was a little kid of six or seven my mom used to take me for walks in Brooklyn where we lived, and when we came back from the walk, she'd empty out my pockets. They were filled with colored glass. I don't remember it, but my mom told me that. So, I think even as a kid I was fascinated with something that sparkles. As a six year old, I wouldn't have had any connotation of glamour and glitter and value and power that jewels have. Royalty have always flaunted their jewels – the crown, the dripping in diamonds – it's wealth and power.
I still think about that bracelet from twenty years ago.
N: There's something visceral that's connected to your soul. Heidi, it's all part of something. A piece of jewelry has so much energy because it's made of so many different components and it's handmade. It's all hand-tooled. To make gold, it has to be pulled and especially in antique jewelry, there was a polisher. There was a setter.
Is there a piece of jewelry you covet most?
N: The most exciting bracelet ever in my life, the one I would covet, is the Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet Marlene Dietrich owned. You should look that up. Dietrich’s Jarretière ruby and platinum cuff is such a historical bracelet.
Mr. Arpels was friendly with her in the 20s and 30s and he said to her, ‘you should have a major piece of jewelry. You shouldn't have all this little stuff.’ [Her friend Enrich Maria Remarque suggested she] give him all her platinum and diamond jewelry with rubies in it and Mr. Arpels made the most magnificent piece of jewelry for her and she wore it throughout her filming career. She always wore it. She loved that bracelet. And when she died, her daughter says in the book that she loved that bracelet so much she had hidden it in the back of her bureau and she didn't want to sell it. A year later, after they had the estate sale, they found the bracelet. It was hidden.
Emily, is there a piece of Neil’s that you’d like the MFA to one day own?
E: There is much to pick from given he has such a great collection. He has this multi-use necklace from Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, which is actually connected to a drawing that we have at the museum and when I met him seven years ago, we had just acquired this book of drawings. Neil and I were flipping through it and he said, 'that's my necklace.' He had found a drawing of it in our book and we brought it in for the Hollywood show a year ago. It’s this phenomenal necklace and Claudette Colbert in The Gilded Lily wore a version of it in 1934. It's a necklace that comes apart and it has this incredible bold jewel with a great impact on camera. The necklace comes apart and it can be worn I think as two bracelets, a double clip brooch which can be worn as two clips or a broach. It's just incredible and was worn many different ways in the film. There's also a phenomenal flower bracelet by Paul Flato that I just covet. It would be a hard choice.
Is there currently a must see in the MFA collection?
E: One of the things I'm most proud of is now outside the jewelry gallery. There are two pieces that were owned by Bunny Mellon that came up for sale last year in her auction at Sotheby's, and we have a beautiful Dahlia Flower Compact and a Sea Urchin Clock alongside this head that was done by an artist named Louis Féron who's actually the manufacturer who made both of those pieces. It's a project that I've been working on for a few years and I was excited to be able to add those works to the collection. They're magnificent andspeak to her interest in land and sea, and I think they're just beautiful objects that I know people have really enjoyed seeing in the museum.
Emily, does anyone in Boston have a jewelry collection that you'd like to have in the MFA one day?
E: There are some that I won't say but I'd like to discover more people who have jewelry collections that might belong at the MFA.
Where do you go in Boston for inspiration?
E: It’s always fun to go to the Skinner Auction Previews and to see what's there – you're able to handle things and look closely at jewelry. They always have some great things there that are worth checking out.
Favorite place for cocktail?
E: I really love the renovated Long Bar in the old Oak Room. I think it's a really glamorous place to see and be seen.