Understanding Jewellery in the news: Tribune des Arts - When David met Ava

'Or, how I fell in love with Ava Gardner...'

In the latest issue of Tribune des Arts David recalls a memorable encounter with the Hollywood movie star, Ava Gardner.

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During my forty-two year career at Sotheby’s I had the opportunity to meet many well-known personalities and stars. Elton John, Gina Lollobrigida, Margaret Thatcher and Queen Margarethe II of Denmark to name just a few. However, my meeting with the actress Ava Gardner stands out from all the others.

It was London in 1989. Ava Gardner’s manager called me to ask if I could come and meet her as she had some jewellery to show me, and ‘she would like to have your opinion’. Obviously I said yes on the spot and the meeting was fixed for a few days later. When the big day arrived I was fully prepared. It was mid-Summer, I remember, and swelteringly hot and steamy – so typical of London when the weather is ’good’. By the time I arrived at Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge, behind which her apartment was located I was in somewhat of a sweat. I was escorted up to the first floor, to a very pristine and finely decorated apartment, in short it was very English in style. One thing I will never forget was her voice, with its deliciously soft southern accent, ‘Mr Bennett, come in please. I have made some tea’, she said in an extremely relaxed tone, as she invited me to take a seat in the living room. She was dressed very elegantly but was wearing very little make up. Her movements were slightly slow as if she was weighing up every gesture, and this was perhaps as a consequence of her recent stroke. She was 66 years old at the time and no longer the movie star, but her allure was fully intact. She was simply fabulous.

Ava Gardner relaxes in her London apartment in the early 1980s

We briefly exchanged a few courtesies and she then turned to the small coffee table facing us, on which were placed about fifty jewellery cases. ‘We’re going to start’, she said before opening the first case and handing me the jewel inside. Each piece was accompanied by a story. It was fascinating. She recalled her marriages, with the actor, Mickey Rooney, the musician, Artie Shaw, and the singer Frank Sinatra. And, sometimes told in intimate detail – comments I’ve not shared with anyone since. I was surprised by her candour, and the ease with which she relayed her memories, some of which were painful and full of sadness.

Ava’s emerald (weighing 7.46 carats) and diamond ring by Van Cleef & Arpels

One particular jewel was remarkable, a Van Cleef & Arpels’ ring set with an emerald of extraordinary quality. Its shape was a little rounded at the top, and it reminded me of rare Russian stones. ‘I remember very well buying it’ she told me, ‘Ah, you bought it?’, I responded, a little surprised. ‘Yes, I bought most of my own jewellery’, she said, with some pride. She explained she had been in Los Angeles and was strolling through Beverly Hills when she came upon the ring in the window of a jeweller’s. ‘I walked past it several times before I found the courage to enter’ she confided, ‘I told the salesman I thought it was a beautiful stone, and this made him very happy. Clearly I have great taste’, she teased.

The blue plaque commemorating the time Ava resided at 34 Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge; the actress lived in the apartment from 1972-1990

We spent two afternoons like this, two unforgettable afternoons. She had the air of a little girl sharing her treasures for the very first time. Had I known that she was going to disappear for ever six months later, I would have better understood this need to tell her life story. The jewels were the key to these tales, each one was associated with a special moment in her life.

I was quite simply enchanted by her sweetness and candour, and this is how I fell in love with Ava Gardner.