Saturday, 7 May 2011

AUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Jewels from the Condesa Vda. de Romanones

Sotheby's Geneva next auction also includes seven lots of jewels from a famous spanish aristocrat, the Condesa Vda. de Romanones. The jewels are extraordinary by her story is even better. She was born in the US and went to Spain as a spy working for the predecessor of the CIA, in Madrid she met her husband, the heir of an important noble family end so she became one of the best known socialites  of her time. An icon amongst European and American celebrities for her good taste and her jewellery collection. She lives in Madrid and, although she is almost ninety, she has become a well known writer, with her memoirs just published this year.


The holder of Spain's highest decoration: the Order de Isabel la Católica, a best-selling author, the most generous of hostesses and a Grande de España, the Excelentísima Sra. Condesa Vda. de Romanones has led a life packed with allure, mystique and adventure. Her story would make a truly great film plot.

The Condesa was born Aline Griffith in Pearl River NY. After a rigorous training, as a young lady she worked in Madrid as a spy during the critical years of the Second World War, at a time when the city was an important hub for espionage. Her contributions were to prove vital for the United States and their allies as seen later at the Nüremberg trials. "I stepped out into a completely unknown world", she said in her first book, The Story of Pascualete, (her husband's family estate dating from the thirteen century). But, it was a world which soon capitulated, as it yielded to the dazzling, stylish American beauty, who effortlessly and gracefully adapted to her new life in Spain. In 1947, dressed in Balenciaga couture, the Condesa married don Luis de Figueroa y Perez de Guzmán el Bueno, the dashing scion of one of the grandest families of the realm. The Condesa, a Hall of Fame member of the International Best Dressed List, soon after became the toast the grand monde. She established herself at the centre of society, hosting shooting parties and entertaining lavishly in her homes. Her guest list included the world leaders of the twentieth century as well as key players in Hollywood and members of the European aristocracy. "It seems to me that my husband and I went from one after the other", the Condesa reflects today on the frenetic social scene which erupted after the end of the War, where grand Balls were de rigueur. Charles de Besteigui's Ball at Venice's Labia Palace and the many balls that the Condesa attended at Ferrières, home of her friend the extraordinary Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, are favourite highlights of this era. The Condesa recollects, "My Era was the end of the glamour the world had known for centuries", where quick wit, beauty and elegance were of paramount importance. "With great Jewels you can walk into any exceptional place and know you belong" she adds, stressing that although dress, hair and makeup are always important, jewels are indispensable. "The jewels give importance to you and what you wear. It is what their sparkle do for you. A simple black dress and a knock-out jewel always light a room. They make you glitter. Jewels are a definite advantage to women".

Among her many friends were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - the latter, "treated me like a daughter" the Condesa recounts. Her vast and eclectic circle included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 'Babe' Paley and Betsy Cushing Whitney, as well as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, the legendary Cayetana XVIII Duchess of Alba and screen icons, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Ava Gardner. The Condesa is a peerless witness to an elegant, but vanishing world, epitomised by Capote's mythical swans.

The Excelentísima Sra. Condesa Vda. de Romanones encapsulates the magnificent poise of European aristocracy, combined with New World flair, zest and a lack of self-consciousness.