06 March 2017

Jewel History: Actress Advocates Aquamarines (1916)

A diamond and aquamarine tiara that once belonged to Christian, Lady Hesketh

"Actress Advocates Aquamarines"
(originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun on 20 Aug 1916)

During her last trip over the Western section of the United States, Cecil Cunningham [1], the comedienne who comes to the Maryland Theatre next week, spent the greater part of her time in curious little jewelry shops indulging her pet hobby of collecting aquamarines. To the uninitiated, the aquamarine means only a pale bluish stone of little lustre, but to the aquamarine collector it means a constant source of interest.

The Countess of Wessex wears a diamond and aquamarine tiara loaned to her by her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

"Every blonde," writes Miss Cunningham in her new booklet, which she has titled Good Taste, "should get on speaking terms with the faithful aquamarine. There is no prettier combination than the pale blue of that gem and the gold of the natural blonde. I say 'natural blonde,' but it makes no difference to me whether the blonde be natural or intentional, because I am exploiting aquamarines, not blondes.

A diamond and aquamarine ring that once belonged to the actress Tallulah Bankhead
(JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

"It may seem surprising, but few jewelers know the difference between a fine aquamarine and a poor one. Go into any dealer and ask to see his stock, and he will put out a bunch of tissue paper with a number of aquamarines in it, and to the layman they all look alike. But study the stones side by side, and you will find, if there is a good one in the group, it will make its presence known, just a diamond will scream unhappily from a bunch of rhinestones.

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands wears Queen Juliana's aquamarines in Monaco
(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

"Ask the jeweler the price, and he will offer you your pick for a certain figure. Good, bad, or indifferent, they are all aquamarines to him, and he recognizes no distinction. I guess the reason for this is that it is only a semi-precious stone selling for a few dollars a carat, and he can't afford to bother with it.

An Art Deco aquamarine and diamond bangle, made in 1935 by Cartier

"I am having a number of aquamarines set in black onyx, and if there is any more striking or tasteful bit of jewelry anywhere, I have yet to see it. The combination is truly wonderful; the pale blue and black seeming to get together as harmoniously as a couple of long-lost brothers. Of course, the parvenue will still have her diamonds, but, as I said to my sister blondes: don't overlook the aquamarine."


1. Cecil Cunningham (1888-1959) was an American vaudeville comic and Hollywood character actress. Her notable films included the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and The Awful Truth, which starred Irene Dunne and Cary Grant.