12 August 2018

Jacqueline Kennedy's Sunburst Brooch

Jacqueline Kennedy wears the sunburst brooch in her hair during the Luxembourgish state visit, 30 Apr 1963 (National Archive/Newsmakers)

When you think of American style icons of the last century, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis almost has to be on your list. But she didn't just have impeccable taste in clothing -- she also had a pretty impressive jewelry collection. Today, we're looking at one of the workhorse pieces from Jackie's White House days: her diamond sunburst brooch.

Kennedy wears the brooch during a White House press conference, 9 April 1962 (National Archive/Newsmakers)

Jackie reportedly spotted the brooch during one of her trips to London; I've seen people claim it was the June 1961 visit and others suggest it was the March 1962 trip. The nineteenth-century brooch, which is made of diamonds set in silver and gold, was being sold by Wartski. The piece immediately caught Jackie's eye, but the price tag -- reported variously at $50,000 or even $100,000 -- was a bit out of reach. To acquire the sunburst brooch, Jackie ended up selling the diamond leaf brooches that her parents-in-law, Joe and Rose Kennedy, had given her as a wedding present. (She had copies of the leaf brooches made, so they didn't completely exit her collection.)

Kennedy wears the brooch in her hair during the Iranian state visit, 11 April 1962 (Wikimedia Commons)

Jackie began wearing the brooch very regularly in the spring of 1962. Above, she nestles the brooch in her hair for a state dinner in honor of the Shah of Iran in April 1962. Jackie wore the brooch several times in her hair when the Kennedys hosted royalty, perhaps a nod to the tiaras that her guests inevitably sported. (That's the Seven Emeralds Tiara on Empress Farah's head.)

Kennedy wears the brooch for a gala dinner in honor of the Minister of State for Cultural Affairs of France, Andre Malraux, 11 May 1962 (Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers)

A month later, Jackie wore the brooch in her hair again for another gala dinner. This time, the guests of honor were Andre Malroux, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, and his wife, Marie-Madeleine Lioux.

Kennedy wears the brooch for a gala dinner in honor of the Minister of State for Cultural Affairs of France, Andre Malraux, 11 May 1962 (Wikimedia Commons)

Here's another view from the Malraux visit that shows the scale of the brooch in Jackie's hair. Malraux and Jackie had hit it off during the Kennedys' visit to Paris the previous year, and during this remarkable state dinner, he made an intriguing promise: he would have the Mona Lisa sent to the United States for a special exhibition. (You can read more about Jackie, Malraux, and La Joconde in a very good book on the subject, Mona Lisa in Camelot.)

Kennedy wears the brooch during a Foreign Ministry Reception in Mexico City, 30 June 1962 (Wikimedia Commons)

As the summer went on, Jackie continued to wear her new sunburst brooch proudly. The Kennedys made a visit to Mexico City at the end of June, and Jackie pinned the sunburst brooch to her blue gown for a reception at the Foreign Ministry.

Kennedy wears the brooch in her hair during the Luxembourgish state visit, 30 April 1963 (National Archive/Newsmakers)

The brooch made another appearance in Jackie's hair the following year, when she wore it for another visit from royalty. Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg arrived in Washington in April, accompanied by Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Pierre Werner, and Charlotte's son, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean. (For the state dinner, Charlotte did wear a tiara: the diamond floral tiara that had belonged to her aunt, Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden.)

Caroline Kennedy wears her mother's sunburst brooch at her waist during the annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, December 2012 (CBS)

In the years since Jackie's death, some of her jewelry has been sold at auction, while other pieces are on loan to the Kennedy Presidential Library. But the sunburst brooch has had a different fate: it now belongs to Jackie's daughter, Caroline Kennedy. She occasionally brings the sunburst out for various important events, including the annual Kennedy Center Honors. At a dinner related to the Honors, one reporter recognized the brooch and asked Caroline about it. She reportedly replied, simply, "My mother gave it to me."

Replicas of Kennedy's jewels, including the sunburst brooch, are offered for sale at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 29 September 2011 (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The sunburst brooch is iconic enough that, when a company decided to sell affordable replicas of Jackie's jewelry, it was one of the major pieces that they recreated. The costume versions of the brooch are no longer being made, but for years, they were even sold by the Smithsonian.