Friday, March 1, 2013

Mary Pickford’s Sapphires

America's Sweetheart, Mary Pickford
Photo Source: Strictly Vintage Hollywood

America’s Sweetheart,’ Mary Pickford reigned as the ‘Queen of Hollywood’ throughout her illustrious film career. She is reported to have starred in over 175 movies from 1909 to 1933. By 1916, she was making a staggering $350,000 every time one of her pictures played in a theater.

According to our sources, by 1919, Ms. Pickford had become “the first millionaire in Hollywood history.” She was an equal partner in the film production company, United Artists, and she was free to indulge her every whim.

Her every whim included a love of beautiful things, and she added pieces regularly to her extensive collection of costume and fine jewelry. By 1920, the Canadian-born starlet was one of the most famous women in Hollywood, and she fell in love with one of Hollywood’s golden boys, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

'Star of Bombay' Sapphire
Copyright Smithsonian Institute
Photo Source: Pinterest

By 1920, Mr. Fairbanks had established himself as a famous silent film actor who wowed his audiences with action stunts he performed himself. After watching a clip of The Mark of Zorro (1920), I find it no surprise that he was beloved by national and international audiences.

Mr. Fairbanks met Ms. Pickford on a tour during World War I, and though they were both married they began an illicit affair. Despite the damage it might do to their reputations, they took a risk and divorced their spouses so they could get married in March of 1920. According to Photoplay Magazine (June, 1920), their fears of ruin were unfounded. It seems that everyone in Hollywood hoped that the two had “finally found lasting happiness."

For the first eight years of their marriage, it seemed as though they truly had found happiness. Their lives were governed by romantic customs which included spending every night together, even when it was inconvenient. They always sat together at the dinner table, even when others had arranged for them to sit separately, and they always saved the last dance for each other, even when it meant turning down the future king.*

Given this great romance that bloomed between them, it will come as no surprise that the two lavished each other with gifts. As you can imagine, it would be no small feat to dazzle the likes of Miss Mary Pickford, who could buy whatever she wanted.

So, what did Mr. Fairbanks buy for the woman who had everything?

In 1920, he purchased the ‘Star of Bombay,’ a breathtaking blue star sapphire that was set into a platinum cocktail ring and sold to Mr. Fairbanks by Trabert & Hoeffer, a New York jewelry firm. The stunning 182-carat cabochon-cut star sapphire from Sri Lanka, India, quickly became a favorite in Ms. Pickford’s collection. The movie star kept it close even after the romance began to unravel.

*Eileen Whitfield, in her book Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood, tells of the time when Ms. Pickford declined a dance with George IV, saying that “it wouldn’t be ‘meet a man one minute and then next go into his arms and dance.’” She further commented that she had promised Douglas that she would save the last dance for him.

'Star of India' Sapphire
Photo Credit: Daniel Torres, Jr., 2007
Photo Source: Wikipedia

It is at this very point of unraveling that the woman who had everything supposedly received a final, over-the-top gift from Mr. Fairbanks. On the verge of divorce, rumor has it that the silent film star, making one last attempt to atone for his infidelity, purchased what some refer to as “the most famous star sapphire in the world,” the ‘Star of India’.

Though several authoritative sources claim that Mary Pickford owned the ‘Star of India’, the historical record of the 563.35-carat star sapphire does not support this rumor. According to Mr. Douglas Preston, writing on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History, the Sri Lankan treasure was first brought to the States by gemstone expert, George Frederick Kunz sometime in the late 1800s.

Between 1890 and 1901, the wealthy banker, financier, and philanthropist, J.P. Morgan purchased all of Kunz’s treasures. Morgan promptly donated the “golfball-sized star sapphire” to New York’s American Museum of Natural History in 1890. {3, p. 210}

Unique even among star sapphires, if cut properly, the ‘Star of India’ demonstrates three cross-bars which create a six-pointed star beneath its surface. This, combined with its size and lineage, make it one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. According to the Museum’s records, the unique and priceless gemstone, has been displayed in the museum’s Hall of Minerals and Gems for most of its American repose.*

While it is possible that Mr. Fairbanks purchased a blue sapphire for his wife during their separation, it is clear that it was not the ‘Star of India’ as some suppose. It is also clear that his final gift was insufficient to mend the wounds he inflicted upon his marriage.

In 1935, Hollywood’s favorite couple filed for divorce. Ms. Pickford is recorded to have bequeathed the ‘Star of Bombay’ to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the stone was given to a Smithsonian representative in 1980. Accounts of her estate make no mention of the ‘Star of India’ sapphire. Both gemstones remain on public display at their respective museums.

*I say most of its life, because there was a brief period when an infamous robbery placed it in the hands of celebrity jewel thief, ‘Murph the Surf’(Jack Murphy), on October 30, 1964. The jewels were recovered from a locker in the Miami bus terminal a few days after Murph and his cohort were picked up by the FBI {10, p. 179-80}.

Vintage Diamond Ring Clip Art


1. Kunz, George Frederick. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones. Philadelphia & London: J.B. Lippincott Company, 2. Leavey, Peggy Dymond. Mary Pickford: Canada’s Silent Siren, America’s Sweetheart. Toronto: Dundurn, 2011.
3. Preston, Douglas J. In the Attic: An Excursion into The American Museum of Natural History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
4. Price, Judith. Masterpieces of American Jewelry. New York: Running Press, 2004.
5. Schou, Solvej. “Mary Pickford: The Angelina Jolie of her day, but much more famous.” Inside Movies, September 4, 2012,
6. Stone, Tammy. “The Silent Collection, Featuring: Mary Pickford.” Things and Other Stuff, accessed January 15, 2013.
7. TheDeadGuy. “Mary Pickford.” Everything2, January 17, 2002.
8. Waterbury, Ruth, ed. Photoplay Magazine, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, June, 1920. Untitled Story, p. 73.
9. Whitfield, Eileen. Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
10. Doherty, Phil. The Miami Police Worksheet. Xlibris, 2012.

*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy


  1. Star sapphires are among my favorite jewels. Sounds like this one has quite a history.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.