23 February 2020

The Whitney Wrapped Heart Brooch

Sotheby's

February is the month to celebrate both love and amethysts, and what could be a better way to combine the two than a piece of jewelry? Today's jewel, the Whitney Wrapped Heart Brooch, does just that.




Sotheby's

The brooch, made by Verdura, dates to 1950. It features a heart-shaped amethyst studded with diamonds, creating a sort of polka-dot effect, and wrapped with a gold and diamond ribbon.


Sotheby's

Here's a better look at the gold bow that sits atop the heart, with the diamond detailing within the folds of the ribbon.


Betsey and Jock arrive at London Airport, February 1957 (Terry Fincher/Keystone/Getty Images)

The brooch once belonged to a great American jewel collector: Betsey Cushing Whitney. The daughter of a prominent neurosurgeon, Betsey was one of a trio of sisters from Cleveland who married exceptionally well. The eldest, Minnie, was the second wife of Vincent Astor, whose father famously died aboard the Titanic; after their divorce, she married the painter and art historian James Whitney Fosburgh. The youngest, Babe, married and divorced Standard Oil heir Stanley Mortimer, Jr., before wedding William S. Paley, the famous television executive.

Betsey was the middle daughter. Her first husband, James Roosevelt, was the eldest son of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Betsey and James married three years before FDR was elected president, and during her father-in-law's first two terms in office, she was an important part of White House social life. She helped entertain King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their 1939 visit to America. Betsey and James had two daughters, Sara and Kate, before divorcing in 1940.


Jock and Betsey attend a Thanksgiving dinner in London, November 1957 (Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Two years later, in March 1942, Betsey married again. This time, her groom was James Hay Whitney, a member of the prominent New York Whitney family. Jock, as most people called him, was a venture capitalist and one of the wealthiest men in America. He often invested in films and theatrical productions; he was a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and he also loved horses, playing polo and breeding racehorses. After his marriage to Betsey, he adopted her two daughters. And soon, the marriage brought Betsey once again into the upper echelons of American diplomatic life. In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed him Ambassador to the United Kingdom, a post that had previously been held by his maternal grandfather, John Milton Hay. Jock and Betsey headed to London, hobnobbing with royals and diplomats for the next four years.


Betsey and Jock bid farewell to London, January 1961 (Lee/Central Press/Getty Images)

The Whitneys were tailor-made to have a happy working relationship with the British royals. They shared a mutual love of the equestrian world; Betsey and Jock even purchased Southern Court, a country house near Ascot Racecourse, during his time at the Court of St. James. Betsey's roles as a diplomatic hostess during both her marriages necessitated interesting jewelry, including tiaras, necklaces, earrings, and brooches. The Wrapped Heart Brooch fit in beautifully with the rest of her collection, much of which was given to her by Jock. (He even reportedly had a hand in designing some of the pieces.) When she died in 1998, leaving behind a fortune of more than $650 million, she had amassed a private jewelry collection that was reported to rival that of the Duchess of Windsor.


Sotheby's

Sotheby's sold many of Betsey's jewels in a glittering two-day sale in New York in October 1998. But the Wrapped Heart Brooch was sold by the same auction house more recently. In December 2016, Sotheby's offered the charming brooch for sale in New York, estimating that it would fetch between $8,000-10,000. When the hammer fell, however, the brooch far exceeded that estimate, selling for a cool $50,000.