Claudette Colbert’s character in 1935’s The Gilded Lily looked like she was dripping in jewels. Yet Colbert wore only one necklace: Composed of interchangeable parts, it could be disassembled and worn in other scenes as a bracelet, a brooch, even a tiara. The jewel’s centerpiece—an 83 ct. ruby known as the Star of Burma—could double as an enormous cocktail ring.
The necklace was made by New York City jeweler Trabert & Hoeffer (the firm merged with Mauboussin in 1936), which was considered the Neil Lane of its day—a jeweler to the stars, says Yvonne Markowitz, author of The Jewels of Trabert & Hoeffer–Mauboussin: A History of American Style and Innovation. “THM became known for its multiuse jigsaw necklaces,” Markowitz says. “Colbert wears the necklace in various forms in various scenes. It created the illusion of a lot of jewels.”
The value of the necklace is pure speculation—a newspaper reported that William Howard Hoeffer took $1 million in jewelry to the set of The Gilded Lily—as is its fate: The Star of Burma ruby came up for auction in the 1970s and is now owned by a private collector, but the necklace itself has never been found. “I suspect that it would have been easier to sell it in parts,” Markowitz says. Who’s up for a puzzle hunt?
In the depths of the Depression, the entrepreneurial Hoeffer lent jewels to half a dozen big Hollywood films.