Beautiful and tragic, actress Marilyn Monroe will always be associated with the allure of gems—if nothing else, her signature song Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend will ensure that.
The Hollywood diva, whose glittering career ended with her controversial death in 1962, appeared draped in jewellery for her show-stopping song in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. But though her character, showgirl Lorelei Lee, had been caught in compromising photos with a diamond mine owner, the gems in the musical number were fake—merely paste replicas supplied by MGM’s costume department.
However, Monroe’s association with real jewels went much deeper. In a promotional tour for the movie, she was often photographed wearing spectacular pieces, and now one of the most well-known has been sold at auction, bringing to light its clouded history.
The 24.04-carat Moon of Baroda is a fancy yellow pear modified brilliant-cut diamond that has been coveted by both the Indian and Hollywood elites, particularly since it became associated with the actress in her 1953 hit.
The Moon of Baroda has a long history, not all of it clear. The Gemological Institute of America pinpointed the stone’s initial sighting in Golconda, where it was excavated between the 15th and 17th centuries. This region of India, known today as Hyderabad, yielded some of the world’s most sought-after diamonds including the Koh-i-Noor and the Grand Mazarin.
In the 18th century the stone came into the hands of the wealthy Gaekwad family of Baroda, and then vanished for some time. It’s said that it was sent by the Gaekwad family to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the only female monarch of the Habsburg dynasty. This was the origin of the legend of the diamond’s curse—Maria Theresa, perhaps believing that the stone brought bad luck to anyone who took it out of its country of origin, returned it to the Gaekwad family. The gem re-emerged in 1926 when it was brought to America by Prince Ramachandra, and it was later exhibited in Los Angeles during the Easter Fashion Festival in 1943.
In the Public Eye
The Moon of Baroda was acquired by the Meyer Jewellery Company of Michigan in the 1950s, and it was during Meyer Rosenbaum’s ownership that it received most public exposure, when it was worn by Marilyn during the promotional run of Howard Hawks’ film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Offered at auction along with the gem was an autographed photo of Marilyn wearing the diamond, inscribed “To Meyer, thanks for the chance to wear the Moon of Baroda.”
At the Magnificent Jewels sale at Christie’s in Hong Kong in May 2018, lots included diamond and gold jewellery by Piaget, Cartier, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany and Chopard, raising a total of HK$563m (around £56m).
But for Marilyn fans, the star of the show was undoubtedly the Moon of Baroda, described as a ‘historical coloured diamond pendant necklace’, which almost doubled its presale estimate of HK$4-6m, realising HK$10.3m, (around £1.03m), while the autographed photo of Marilyn wearing the stone went for $35,000 (around £27,000).
Five bidders fought over the Moon of Baroda, but the winning buyer remaining anonymous; whoever it is, now owns one of the most beautiful and storied gems in history, along with its reputation for mystery and mixed fortunes.
This feature was originally published in the spring edition of Arts and Collections, which you can also read here.