The necklace that bought a house

What would you give away for the perfect jewellery piece? This post is about the Cartier  pearl necklace that bought a Mansion on NY Fifth Avenue.

June is said to be the month of pearls. And to close this month accordingly, I am going to write about this particular story that I was told by David Bennett when studying jewellery history at the Sotheby’s Institute.

I have already told you about David Bennett in a previous post. More than being one of the most famous authorities in jewellery auctions where he keeps breaking records, he is a true passionate who wrote a few books about Jewellery history and is always willing to share anecdots about the subject with fellow passionates.

Morton F. Plant was a railroad tycoon of the early 1900s. At the time of his first marriage, he had purchased a property at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street and built on it an elegant Italian Renaissance Revival styled Mansion of granite and marble, one of the New York’s finest at the time.

It seems difficult to imagine that kind of mansion being sold for a pearl necklace, but he had a beautiful second wife with expensive tastes.

After the death of his first wife in 1913, the sixty-one-year-old millionaire didn’t wait long to meet Mae Caldwell Manwaring he fell thoroughly in love with.
Mae was only thirty-one, and married to another man. But Plant was not accustomed to being denied, and less than a year after his wife’s death, he married the newly-divorced Mae.
Growing concerned by the area that he felt was becoming too commercial, he decided that a new bride deserved a new house and to move further up on Fifth Avenue where he began to build an even more lavish new mansion.

On her side, Mae had her eye on a double-strand necklace of Oriental pearls in the display windows at Cartier. In these days before cultured pearls, natural pearls were much favoured and extremely valuable and this particular necklace was worth $1million dollars. But whatever Mae wanted, Mae got. Her loving husband met with the jeweler, and exchanged the Mansion of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street for $100 and the pearl necklace.

Cartier turned the mansion into the U.S. flagship store. Mae happily wore her pearls through two more marriages. 
In the long run, however, it seems that Cartier got the better of the deal. The store continues to prosper in the Fifth avenue mansion, and its current value… priceless. As for Mae’s pearls, the development of cultured pearls in the 1930s-40s flattened the market for natural pearls. After her death in 1957, her heirs sold her pearls for a mere $150,000. In retrospect, maybe they should have held on to the necklace for a few more decades, a similar natural double-strand of pearls recently sold at Christie’s for $3.1 million.

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