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The gold standard of kings, presidents and tycoons

November 02, 2005|Samantha Critchell | Associated Press

NEW YORK — The movers and shakers of the early 20th century were proud of their success and wanted to show it off. Instead of wearing their hearts on their sleeves, they wore their wealth.

A multitiered diamond necklace worn by the Maharajah of Patiala in the late 1920s and William Randolph Hearst's over-the-top buffalo horn drinking cup with copper gilt mounting are among the 140 pieces included in "Treasures of the Titans," on view through Dec. 31 at the Forbes Galleries.

The Duke of Westminster's Van Cleef & Arpels 1-inch-thick tassel bracelet, dripping with diamonds and rubies, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's wedding stickpin, inscribed with the date March 17, 1910, also are on display.

The exhibit offers a glimpse into the lives of the boldfaced names of yesteryear, people such as the Roosevelts (Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor have pieces in the exhibit), Winston Churchill, Walt Disney and Jesse Owens.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 04, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
"Treasures of the Titans" -- An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about the "Treasures of the Titans" exhibit at New York City's Forbes Galleries said William duPont married tennis star A. Louise Brough. They were never married.

A walking stick owned by Adolph Ochs, former owner of the New York Times, is included. It has a 14-karat gold tip and is otherwise made of wood.

"When I see this, I want to know what was he thinking when he carried it? How did he feel when he was using this cane?" said Judith Price, president of the National Jewelry Institute.

In 1945, Hermes made a tiny watch for King Umberto II of Italy. While everyone else was wearing pocket watches, the king was a sporty skier and needed something more practical. His new watch was worn on the belt and could be flipped open without taking off a glove.

An Omega Aviator Chronograph watch from 1915, made of silver and owned by Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), is extraordinary for the period mostly because it's very masculine looking, unlike dandier watches of the time.

"It's rugged, it has a big face -- I think they should reissue that watch," Price said. "It's so easy to read."

It should come as no surprise that Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt's personal effects were also simple and manly. He had an initialed six-piece gold shaving kit that featured two razors -- one dull, the other sharp -- with some pieces carrying the presidential seal.

Meanwhile, Franklin Roosevelt "fancied himself a designer," said Price, and he worked with Tiffany & Co. to craft the stickpin he gave as a groomsmen gift. He also created a gold and silver "Victory" ring in 1942 with a V made of diamonds and rubies.

Churchill commissioned Cartier to make a gold cigarette case for his son that looked like an envelope, including a stamp. It's engraved in Churchill's handwriting and reads: Randolph P. Churchill, Chartwell Manor, Westerham, Kent.

Owens' ring by Jostens from the 1936 Olympics looks like the rings countless high school graduates get each year from the same company. Next to it in the display is Owens' Medal of Freedom brooch from 1976. It has golden eagles and a white star embellished with tiny gold stars.

"We didn't restore any of the pieces. They came as the lender gave it to us. If the grandkid wanted a piece to be shiny, it's shiny. If they wanted it to show its age, it was their decision," Price noted.

Only a handful of women are included in "Titans," a reflection of a woman's place in society during the first half of the 20th century. Fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin was too successful and proud to wear a wristwatch, a sign of the working class. Instead, in 1921, she had Cartier make a watch pin of gold, platinum, diamonds, sapphires and onyx. Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel made herself a brooch in 1932 in the same Etoille shooting star design that's become an icon of the Chanel brand.

Pablo Picasso put an engraved portrait of his mistress, Dora Maar, on the top of a silver Dunhill lighter in 1932. Smoking accessories are one of the most common themes in this show, as are watches and writing tools, including C.W. Post's 80-pound bronze inkwell with replicas of Greek gods.

Many of the items were gifts, such as the miniature ruby tennis racket that William duPont gave tennis star A. Louise Brough in 1942 after she appeared in the U.S. Open final and before she became his wife. Brough is the only living person represented in the exhibit.

The moonstone, diamond and ruby bracelet that mob boss Meyer Lansky gave his wife in 1947 is noteworthy because he went into Tiffany's -- a landmark in the world of high society -- picked it out and paid for it himself, something he normally would not do.

"Titans" runs through the end of the year. The second part of the exhibit opens in spring 2006 and will cover 1950 to the present, featuring pieces from the collections of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, President Eisenhower and Elvis Presley.

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