04 July 2020

Jacqueline Kennedy's Diamond Waterfall Earrings

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Happy Independence Day to my fellow American magpies! To celebrate the national holiday, I've got some classic American jewelry for you to enjoy: the diamond waterfall earrings worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers

The diamond earrings feature a floral stud and a waterfall-style pendant. The earrings are versatile; while Jackie most often wore the two elements together, the waterfall section can also be detached so that the floral studs can be worn alone. The earrings were a gift to Jackie from her husband, the future President John F. Kennedy, in 1957 to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Caroline. Jack bought the earrings for her from Van Cleef and Arpels in New York.

Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers

During her time as First Lady, the waterfall earrings were among her most-worn gala jewels. She wore them for the inaugural ball in Washington in January 1961, pairing them with an off-white silk chiffon gown that was custom made for her by Ethel Frankau of Bergdorf Custom Salon. (The gown is now in the Smithsonian collection.)

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She also wore the earrings during the Kennedys' visit to London in June 1961. Here, you see her wearing the earrings as she arrives at Buckingham Palace...

Kennedy Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons

...for dinner with Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. (The Queen wore the George VI Sapphires for the occasion.) Reporters commented approvingly on Jackie's "spectacular hairdo" for the dinner, noting that it "gave an impression of sculptured ebony," with the "effect enhanced by the diamond-drop earrings she wore."

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For a White House state dinner honoring President Prado of Peru in September 1961, Jackie wore the earrings with a gown with a black velvet top and bright yellow satin skirt, made by Jules-Francois Crahay for Nina Ricci.

Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers

And only a few weeks later, in October 1961, she brought them out for another state dinner, this time in honor of President Abboud of Sudan. This particular evening was also notable for its after-dinner entertainment: the first Shakespeare performance at the White House. And you'll also note one of Jackie's diamond leaf brooches pinned to her one-shoulder gown; the brooch was one of a pair given to her as a wedding present by her parents-in-law. She later sold the originals to buy her famous sunburst brooch (but had copies made so she wouldn't offend Joe and Rose Kennedy).

National Archive/Newsmakers

The earrings also made an appearance at the inaugural anniverary dinner held in January 1962. Jackie sat beside President Truman at the dinner. Columnist Betty Beale wrote that "Mrs. John F. Kennedy looked like glamour itself in a white satin sheath, bead-encrusted bolero and dangling diamond earrings" at the event.

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Here's another photo from the same dinner that shows some of the detail of the earrings.

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Just a few days later, Jackie sported the earrings again, this time for a small dinner held to celebrate the upcoming 80th birthday of composer Igor Stravinsky.

Cecil W. Stoughton/Kennedy Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons

In March 1962, when Jackie embarked on her famous trip to India, the earrings came along in her luggage. She wore them for a reception at the American embassy in New Delhi, paired with a long evening coat in white peau de soie.

Wikimedia Commons

Back in Washington, she chose the earrings for a state dinner in honor of the Shah of Iran in April 1962. Her diamond sunburst brooch was fixed in her hair like a tiara, but it couldn't do much to outshine the Seven Emeralds Tiara worn by Farah Pahlavi.

Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers

She paired the earrings and the sunburst brooch again in May 1962, this time for a dinner honoring Andre Malraux, the French Minister of State for Cultural Affairs. She famously wore a pink satin strapless gown from Dior for the occasion.

Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers

She also charmed the heck out of Malraux at the dinner. This was the moment when she convinced him to loan the Mona Lisa to the United States for special exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington -- the first time the French had loaned the painting for foreign exhibition. (There's an excellent book, Mona Lisa in Camelot, about that famous loan. Highly recommended.)

Robert Knudsen/Kennedy Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons

Another outing for both the waterfall earrings and the sunburst brooch came in June 1962, during the Kennedys' trip to Mexico City. She wore the jewels with an azure blue silk crepe gown designed by Oleg Cassini during a foreign ministry reception.

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On some occasions, she paired the dangling earrings with a necklace as well. She wore them with a triple strand of pearls in March 1963 for a state dinner at the White House in honor of King Hassan II of Morocco.

Don Pollard/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Newsmakers

Fittingly, the earrings now belong to Caroline Kennedy, the daughter whose birth they initially celebrated. She wears them occasionally for gala events. Above, she wears them for the opening of a special exhibit dedicated to her mother at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in April 2001.