What you see: A charm bracelet that belonged to actress Vivien Leigh. Sotheby’s estimates it at £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,359 to $2,038).
Who was Vivien Leigh? She was a British actress who became a silver screen legend when she played Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind. She also played Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, both in the 1951 film and on stage in London. She married actor Laurence Olivier in 1940, and they stayed together for 20 years, often appearing alongside each other in plays. Leigh died of tuberculosis in 1967. She was 53.
When did Leigh get this charm bracelet? She seems to have acquired it sometime in the 1940s. We don’t know if she bought it for herself, or if Olivier or someone else gave it to her. David MacDonald, director and English and Continental senior specialist at Sotheby’s, cites a quote from a 1960 newspaper interview that showed why the bracelet was important to her: “I like good-luck charms and I am superstitious about some things.” The charms include a miniature book that says ‘Gone With the Wind’ on its cover and opens to reveal the words ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on its inner pages, as well as an oval locket that contains a George Romney portrait of Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Admiral Horatio Nelson, and a photograph of Leigh in the same pose from her role in the 1941 film That Hamilton Woman.
What did each charm represent? “We know what the Gone With the Wind script means, but sometimes, they’re a complete mystery. There’s no hint about the other four,” says Macdonald, speaking of the two chalcedony drops, the jadeite pendant, and the charm that shows a boat against a sunset. “Each must have had some meaning. I know someone out there must have the missing little snippet of information that would explain why they’re there.”
Did she wear this bracelet every day? “We have a few pictures of her wearing it. You don’t see her wearing it at premieres,” he says. “She loved bracelets. This was something that was very personal. It was very much an intimate thing.”
Leigh died 50 years ago. Why is her family selling now? Leigh’s daughter, Suzanne Farrington, passed away last year. When Susan’s family dealt with her effects, they found themselves handling many things that she had inherited from her famous mother. The charm bracelet had been sitting in a bank in London since Leigh’s death, along with the rest of her jewelry, inside a crocodile skin Asprey case that she received on the opening night of the London theatrical run of A Streetcar Named Desire. That case is in the sale, along with the many treasures that it contained. “Susan was a deeply practical woman,” Macdonald says. “I suspect, with her, that her mother’s jewelry–she wasn’t going to sell it, but it wasn’t relevant to her life. It was special to her, but she kept it locked away.”
This bracelet isn’t dripping with gems. It’s valuable because it’s so personal to Vivien Leigh. How do you put an estimate on something like this? “It’s so hard,” he says. “The values we put on things are only a guide. It’s what it’s worth in real terms, without the provenance. What it will do at auction is impossible to say. It could make a lot of money, though, because it is so clearly hers. It has such a strong link to her.”
Why does this bracelet stand out from the rest of Leigh’s jewelry? “Its value lies in what it tells us about her as a person. It’s very biographical,” he says. “It’s not loaded with diamonds, but the imagery of Gone With the Wind and the portrait from That Hamilton Woman are almost worth their weight in diamonds. Other jewels are pretty, but this is absolutely hers, and it’s absolutely magical.”
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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.