Our series on royal jewels at American state dinners continues today with an especially sparkly state visit from 1962, featuring an incredible tiara and an iconic brooch moment.
On April 11, 1962, President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy hosted a state dinner at the White House in Washington, D.C. Their guests were Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and his wife, Farah Pahlavi.
Much of the state visit was spent discussing military aid—you’d need an entire book to cover the complicated political relationship between the two nations over the years—but on the first evening, both couples were treated to a candlelight dinner with 90 assembled guests.
The evening included a special contemporary ballet performance choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who had just won a pair of Academy Awards for his work on the film version of West Side Story.
President Kennedy quipped in his speech during dinner that he and the Shah had “a burden that we carry in common”: beautiful wives who stole the show. Indeed, both ladies were in the sparkling spotlight during the state dinner. Empress Farah, who was then just 23, wore a gleaming gold gown from Dior with a matching bag, gloves, and shoes, plus a white fur wrap and the sash of Iran’s Order of the Pleiades.
But it was her jewelry that really caught everyone’s attention. An AP reporter wrote that the empress wore “a heavy tiara of diamonds encircling seven enormous emeralds—a pattern repeated in a necklace and in her earrings.”
The tiara was made by Harry Winston in 1959, the year that Farah married the Shah. The seven cabochon emeralds set in the tiara are impressive, but it’s the rectangular emeralds set in Farah’s festoon necklace that have a more impressive royal provenance. Originally from the collection of Empress Eugénie of France, the emeralds were bequeathed to her goddaughter, Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain, who wore them in a necklace. She sold the stones in exile, and they were bought by Winston and placed in jewels for Farah. All of the emerald jewels were left behind when Farah herself went into exile in the late 1970s.
Jackie Kennedy surely knew that she couldn’t outshine the empress, but that didn’t stop her from trying. Her dress was described by the press as “”a Chez Ninon creation with a sleeveless white satin top and a heavy floor length silk skirt in hot pink.” Chez Ninon, based in Manhattan, was one of Jackie’s go-to sources for elegant clothes, as they provided their customers with exact copies of couture pieces from France and Italy. (This was a common, and very legal, practice at the time.)
With the gown, Mrs. Kennedy wore some of the most impressive diamond pieces from her jewelry box. Her diamond waterfall earrings, made by Van Cleef & Arpels, were a gift from her husband to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Caroline, in 1957.
An in her hair, Jackie mimicked the look of a tiara by placing her diamond sunburst brooch in her updo. (The poofy hairstyle, a new one debuted by Jackie at this dinner, was dubbed “La Brioche” by the press.) She acquired the brooch from Wartski during one of her trips to London in the early 1960s, selling a pair of diamond leaf brooches given to her by her in-laws to fund the purchase. She often wore it in her hair during her White House years. Today, both the earrings and the brooch belong to her daughter, Caroline Kennedy.