Celebrated as one of the great jewelry collectors of the 20th century, Daisy Fellowes lived an extraordinary life of opulent wealth and sophisticated glamour, herself a dazzling figure which her magnificent jewels reflect in spectacular fashion.
Born in Paris in 1890, the young heiress to the Singer fortune, familiarly known as ‘Daisy’, was bestowed a formal name of near-equal proportion: Marguerite Severine Philipine. Half American and half French, Daisy’s lineage is one of royalty, both of the traditional European kind and ‘American’. Her mother was Isabelle Blanche Singer, daughter of Isaac Merritt Singer who pioneered the American sewing-machine bearing his name; her father was the fourth Duc Decazes et de Glucksbierg, descended from Louis XVIII’s liberal chief minister.
After her mother’s death in 1894, Daisy was raised by her maternal aunt, Winnaretta Singer, wife of Prince de Polignac. Surprisingly, her renowned reputation as a trailblazing trendsetter in fashion in later in life seems to contradict early accounts of her refusing to wash or even comb her hair as a child. Her transformation into society and fashion’s favorite swan transpired during her first years of marriage to Prince Jean de Broglie, when she commissioned her portrait from a well-known society painter. Judging her reflection in the portrait, Daisy hated what she saw and thence decided to create a whole new Daisy.
Daisy’s transformative makeover included a complete overhaul of all the superficial aspects of her appearance as well as her own intellectual acumen. Unhappy with the bridge line of her nose, Daisy bravely had it surgically reshaped without the use of any anesthetics. With the painful part behind her, a new hairdresser and a whole new wardrobe of clothes in the latest fashions completed the look of the new Daisy; however, she was not content to stop at just dressing the part, as one of her social standing should. She realized the importance in life of a well-rounded knowledge of literature and the arts and, in recognizing her own lack of this social advantage, she immersed herself in a sea of books and visited endless museums and art galleries.
When her first husband died in 1918, the new Daisy, now the toast of society, didn’t remain single for long. In 1919, she married her second husband, the Honorable Reginald Fellowes, the banker cousin of Winston Churchill and second son of the 2nd Baron de Ramsey, one of Queen Victoria’s Lords-in-Waiting, and Lady Rosamond Spencer-Churchill. From the 1920s onwards, Daisy was one of the uncrowned queens of the social scene and the trans-Atlantic fete set’s No. 1 bad girl.
Despite her reputation for malicious remarks and a voracious appetite for men, Daisy is undeniably remembered as a great hostess, sportswoman and author. When James Pope-Hennessy wrote of her in American Vogue in 1964, he commented that in her ‘career she could rely on four major assets: very great beauty, a subtle, exquisite and barbed sense of humor, an inborn taste for dress, and a considerable fortune.’
Adorning her cutting-edge clothes designed by avant-garde fashion doyennes Elsa Schiaparelli and Chanel were her magnificent jewels. Passionate about fine jewels from an early age, Daisy patronized the leading jewelers of her time: Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boivin. Daisy was so famous for her splendid jewelry that press reporters and fashion magazines would watch her like hawks to see with which new jewel the stylish Mrs. Fellowes would next stun the world.
Her penchant for exotic jewels, or in close friend and photographer Cecil Beaton’s words, ‘barbaric jewels’, is readily evident in the tantalizing few pieces from her incredible collection that have been sold at auction. From the pair of Indian-inspired diamond and emerald bead manchettes by Van Cleef & Arpels to her hallowed ‘Collier Hindou’ necklace by Cartier, Daisy’s jewelry acquisitions include some of the most innovative and most important, not to mention the most stunning, jewels to date.
Finally getting to the main topic of today’s post, the jewels Daisy purchased and commissioned from the talented designers at Maison Boivin revealed, in particular, her great admiration for their spectacular brooches. As one of Boivin’s most important and enthusiastic clients, she often acquired several pieces at one time: Boivin’s records show that in March 1939 she ordered ‘an orchid, a daffodil ring, a chameleon, a pair of earrings, a daisy, an arrow and two tourmaline leaves.’ Apart from the chameleon brooch, every other design was a new creation from Boivin.
One especially dramatic example of the highly creative jewels designed by Boivin in 1936, one of which was sold in Sotheby’s Geneva in 1991, was a pair of brooches designed as the wing of a pigeon. With the impressive wingspan of almost 13cm in width of each brooch, the wing’s glorious plumes consisted of pave-set circular and baguette-cut diamonds and calibre-cut sapphires.
Some of the specially cut sapphires were acquired by Daisy in Ceylon during one of her voyages aboard her yacht Sister Anne. She reportedly spent many hours on the sun-drenched deck of the boat musing as to what jewel the stones should embellish, the brooch possibly being inspired by the countless winged species soaring in and out of view.
Without a doubt, Daisy Fellowes’ collection of truly spectacular jewels must have been a source of great pride for the revolutionary fashion maven and avid jewelry collector, one which a select few will ever see in its entirety. Until another piece from her collection surfaces at auction, the jewels that have been sold thus far will suffice as a sensational sampling from one of the world’s greatest jewelry collections.