Catherine The Great's Necklace For Sale

Posted on: 15 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The magnificent and mysterious pearls of Anna Thomson Dodge are to be sold at auction.

Did Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, once own this necklace?

In 1920, Horace E. Dodge - US founder of the eponymous automobile company - bought a natural pearl necklace from Cartier for his wife Anna Thomson Dodge for an unprecedented 825,000 dollars. At the time, it was one of the most expensive pearl necklaces ever sold on the open market. 88 years later, the necklace is to be sold again by Bonhams New York.

The three-strand necklace, which comprises 224 pearls and two Cartier diamond clasps, is expected to fetch between 500,000 and 700,000 dollars on 16th December 2008 at Bonhams' Madison Avenue salerooms.

Designed with versatility in mind, the necklace was originally made up of five strands of pearls, which allowed its owner to change the combination and style of the jewellery.

Anna Thomson Dodge gave these pearls to her daughter Delphine but on her untimely death at the age of 44, the pearls reverted back to Anna, their original owner. In 1968, Delphine's daughter Yvonne acquired the pearls from Anna and subsequently divided the strands amongst her friends and heirs.

Three of these family members have decided to reunite their individual natural pearl strands to sell as one necklace at Bonhams' auction.

Anna Thomson Dodge wearing the three-strand natural pearl necklaceEver since 1920, when Horace Dodge first bought the pearls from Cartier - just seven months before he died - there has been much speculation over the necklace's early provenance.

A Cartier sales invoice to Horace E. Dodge, Esq, dated 24th May 1920, states that the "five row pearl necklace, consisting of three hundred and eighty-nine (389) pearls weighing forty-three hundred and five (4305) grains" was accompanied by an "enamel clasp representing Catherine, Empress of Russia" and "two (2) diamond alternate clasps".

Many newspaper articles written in the early 1920s and since then, including those from The New York Times and Detroit Times, have suggested that the pearls once belonged to Catherine the Great and furthermore, the heirs of Anna Thomson Dodge maintain that Horace bought the pearls from Cartier on that basis.

"I fear the truth will always be shrouded in mystery," says Bonhams' International Director of Jewellery Matthew Girling, "Despite exhaustive research to uncover the necklace's early provenance, we've been unable to find any concrete evidence that the jewels once belonged to the Empress of Russia, but I believe there will always be speculation."

Whilst proof of a direct connection between the pearls and the Empress remains inconclusive, it is a fact that in the early 1900s jewellery from Russian aristocrats found its way onto the open market. Russian émigrés, fleeing the Revolution, who had lost their land and fortune and whose funds were quickly exhausted in foreign countries, had no other means to subsist than by selling the family jewels their wives were able to carry with them in their flight. Russian royal jewels found new owners in the wives of wealthy industrialists - many of them American.

"In the early part of the 20th century, pearls were seen as the most precious of commodities. They commanded astronomical prices as new-money businessmen tried to outdo one another by buying the most extravagant pearls they could find for the women in their lives," explains Girling.

"Pearls were more valuable than diamonds and the market was hugely overheated, so much so that in 1917 Cartier acquired premises on New York's 5th Avenue in exchange for a double strand of pearls!"

The Michigan-born Horace Dodge was a self-made billionaire. A gifted mechanic, he moved, in 1886, with his brother John to Detroit and later founded Dodge Automobiles - a brand name that is recognised throughout the world today.

For a time the Dodge brothers built engines for Henry Ford in a deal that included a share position in the new Ford Motor Company.

When Horace and his brother John decided to sell their shares to Henry Ford in 1919, each receiving $12.5 million dollars from the sale, Horace promised to buy his wife Anna any "earthly thing she wanted". Anna - a Scottish immigrant, born in Dundee - said that she wanted pearls.

To celebrate their daughter Delphine's wedding to H R Cromwell, the son of a prominent Philadelphia banker, Horace agreed to purchase the five-strand pearl necklace from Cartier for 825,000 dollars.

Anna is thought to have worn the necklace just twice in her lifetime and one of those occasions was for her daughter's wedding - where she dazzled some 3000 guests and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who played throughout the reception.

Throughout history pearls have always been considered precious. The Romans invaded Britain for them and hundreds of years later Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World to bring the gems back for the Spanish Treasury. They have been found in Egyptian tombs and Chinese burial grounds and they've been loved and worn by the Maharajas of India, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, and Queen Victoria.

During the coming months, the pearls of Anna Thomson Dodge will go on view at Bonhams in Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dubai and finally London from 24th November until 4th December prior to them being sold in New York on 16th December.

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For further details and viewing dates, please visit Bonhams' website:

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