In 17th century Europe multiple matching items of jewellery were all the rage. A parure, as these collections were known, could include diadems, coronets, belts, bracelets, earrings, pendants, corsage studs, fasteners, necklaces and other accessories.
Among the most intriguing jewels in the world are pieces formerly in the collection of the French Crown Jewels. Nearly all the jewels were sold during an auction the French government conducted in 1887. The ruby and diamond diadem was sold to a Mr. Hass and the matching bracelets were sold to Tiffany & Co. Within a year, these jewels were resold to Mr. Bradley-Martin of New York City, an original member of the “Four Hundred,” a term coined for New York City’s high society.
The new owner became Cornelia Bradley-Martin, who played a colorful part in America’s social history during the 1890s when New York was in the midst of an economic panic. Thousands were unemployed and long bread lines formed on the streets. Cornelia Bradley-Martin was distressed over the misery she saw around her and suggested that an extravagant party might help to lift New York out of its slump. It not only would lift spirits, she thought, but also would employ out of-work florists, hair stylists and dressmakers.
Guests were asked to dress “appropriately for the court of Versailles at the time of Louis XIV.” Newspapers around the world began to print detailed accounts of the preparations. The New York Times told readers how carloads of orchids and roses arrived to transform the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria into the Great Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
The Bradley-Martins were costumed as Louis XV and Mary, Queen of Scots. She complemented her costume of black velvet and white lace with a stunning collection of jewels, including the pair of ruby and diamond bracelets dating from 1810 (which she wore joined together to form a dog collar), a large diamond brooch known as the Sevigne brooch dating from 1856, and the center plaque from the piece known as the great girdle set with diamonds, pearls and colored stones dating from 1864. On her right shoulder was a quatrefoil pendant set with rubies and diamonds.
In addition to the royal pieces, she wore an impressive diamond tiara, a necklace designed as a line of ruby and diamond clusters, a large diamond sunburst brooch, a belt set its entire length with large diamonds, and three additional diamond strands draped from her shoulder to her waist. She was a picture of extravagance.
Several ministers condemned the lavish display of wealth during a time of economic hardship. Soon the story of the ball erupted into a full-blown controversy. Collier’s magazine printed critical editorials and a political cartoon lampooning it. The New York City tax authorities doubled the Bradley-Martins’ tax assessment and, by the end of the year, the couple moved to England.
Their daughter, also named Cornelia, married the Fourth Earl of Craven and acquired the title Lady Craven at age 16. The Earl of Craven fell off his yacht and drowned at age 53 in 1921. His death was said to be an example of the curse on the Craven title (whereby all who inherit the title die young).
His body was found a day after his disappearance off the deck of the 63 ton yawl, Sylvia. In the police description of Lord Craven it was stated he was dressed in a dinner jacket, silk shirt and pearl cufflinks with his family crest tattooed on his breast. He was succeeded by his son, the one-legged Viscount Uffington.