The Diva Has Landed: The Jewels of Opera Star Maria Callas

A stylish woman feels free to mix and match. Wear Hermès with J.Crew. Tuck Italian silk into French denim. Pair an evening bag from your former ­husband with jewelry from your lover. In 1965, opera star Maria Callas attended a London soirée carrying a yellow gold and diamond basketweave clutch that her ex, Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini, had purchased from Van Cleef & Arpels eight years earlier. (“These bags were very à la mode in the 1950s and 1960s,” says Catherine Cariou, the company’s ­heritage director.)

Callas also wore earrings and a bracelet made of round cabochon-cut coral surrounded by rings of round diamonds, cultured pearls, and turquoise set in yellow gold. They were special-ordered from the same ­jeweler by the soprano’s then-boyfriend, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (whom she took up with while still married to Meneghini). So which man had better taste? “Her husband, Meneghini,” says Daniela Mascetti, the Sotheby’s international senior jewelry specialist who worked on the 2004 sale of some of Callas’ pieces, including the bag. “He was really the one who gave Maria all the most important items in her ­collection.”