Eva “Evita” Perón—who was born illegitimate and poor but would become the first lady of Argentina and be called the spiritual leader of the country—was a study in contradiction. All while advocating for the descamisados (“shirtless ones”), she toured Europe with 82 pieces of luggage and was photographed in furs and -lavish jewelry. She despised the wealthy, but when it came to picking a jewelry-maker, she aligned herself with a brand that symbolized the upper class: Paris-based Van Cleef & Arpels.
In 1947, she wore VCA’s fern clip, a spray of yellow gold, sapphires, and diamonds. In the ’40s, Van Cleef slowed the production of platinum pieces in favor of yellow gold because precious platinum was being used for wartime efforts, according to Sarah Coffin, curator and head of the product design and decorative arts department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. Coffin, who coauthored Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels, notes that Evita’s fern clip was unusually large for its time. “Postwar, virtually nobody was wearing jewelry of that size,” she says. “She wanted the most expensive jewelry there was. It’s a rather big irony that she was into social reform, but her jewelry was anything but.”