The Boivin Starfish: Why This Rare Jewel Originally Owned By A Hollywood Icon Really Belongs in a Museum
How many jewels have this kind of charisma?” Lee Siegelson, a third generation rare jewelry dealer, has seen plenty of big jewels with big personalities: Paul Flato’s aqua and ruby belt necklace, Belperron’s chalcedony set made for the Duchess of Windsor. But the Boivin Starfish brooch created for Claudette Colbert in 1937—a year after she won the Oscar for It Happened One Night—well, it just has what some like to call “it.”
"The Boivin starfish represents the intersection of art and design, feminism and fashion.”
“Beauty and wit,” are two more specific adjectives Siegelson might use to describe the bold design—a fully articulated and naturalistic sea creature of rubies and amethyst that stretches four by four inches across. For Siegelson, “it represents the intersection of art and design, feminism and fashion.”
Starfish brooch designed by Juliette Moutard for René Boivin, 1937. 18?karat gold, ruby, amethyst
The brooch was produced at René Boivin under Jeanne Boivin (the sister of Paul Poiret) who took over her husband’s namesake company following his death in 1917, making her the first woman to ever direct a French jewelry house. It was designed by Juliette Moutard, who championed a bold avant garde approach to the art form.
Today it was announced that the Boivin starfish, perhaps the house’s most famous jewel, has been acquired from Lee Siegelson for the jewelry collection at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “The story of the Starfish is the story of women,” says Emily Stoehrer, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry, the acquiring curator (and the only jewelry curator in the U.S.).
Claudette Colbert wearing the starfish brooch in Photoplay magazine, November 1939.
“About a year and a half ago we rewrote our collection strategy and mine had a focus on 20th-century designer jewelry, particularly works by women,” says Stoehrer. “This will be the first piece by Boivin in the museum’s collection. We have jewels with great provenance—an emerald brooch that belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, Bunny Mellon’s Schlumberger, pieces from Queen Mary and Sarah Bernhardt—but very few French pieces before this.”
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The Starfish is the subject of much fascination—it is believed four were created but there is debate—and was also the subject of a book published in 2017. Diving for Starfish by Cherie Burns chronicles the pieces many lives and many owners—including Millicent Rogers and Sao Schlumberger.
The Starfish now owned by the MFA has been certified as the original created for Colbert in the 30s. Stoehrer first spotted it at Siegelson’s booth at The TEFAF Art Fair in New York and then again saw it again at a show in Miami. So when can you go visit the Boivin Starfish? “I am working,” says Stoehrer, “to get it on view this summer.”
*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors