The name “Barbara Hutton” is not exactly synonymous with thrift. Her reputation as the epitome of a ‘Poor Little Rich Girl”, is a cautionary tale of an immense fortune lost; squandered on multiple husbands, lavish homes and a luxurious lifestyle beyond the imagination of most people. One of the symbols of her outlandish spending was the peerless jewelry collection she amassed, bought rapaciously, and in some cases given away at an alarming rate. It was known for not only its sheer quantity, but also for the magnificence and historical provenance of many pieces, including Marie Antoinette’s Pearls and Empress Eugenie’s tiara. What is interesting to note, is, that with some of the pieces, she actually showed a flair for recycling and repurposing, not traits commonly associated with her.
The first piece she did this with was her exotic looking ruby necklace, purported to have been previously owned by Queen Amelia of Portugal. Here Barbara wears it to striking effect with her sari in a portrait by George Hoyningen-Huene. A few years later, she was faced with the dilemma of what jeweled quelquechose to adorn her head and best set off a yellow gown. Perhaps Cartier had already closed for the day. Perhaps she forgot the combination to her jewel safe. Or perhaps she was feeling a little bored at the dentist office and was inspired while flipping through an issue of Better Homes and Gardens, her eyes alighting on the DYI section. A little wire, a little glue, et voila, the ruby necklace is transformed into a tiara! Quelle resourcefulness – and certainly beats bedazzling!
Another set of gems that Barbara had do double duty were the Leeds McCormick Emeralds she bought relatively early in her jewel buying career. Reputed to have once been the property of the Grand Duchess Vladimir (the grandest of the grand duchesses). Barbara had the stones removed from the art-deco sautoir they were set in and fashioned into a tiara, seen here in this well-known photograph taken by Cecil Beaton at Sidi Hosni, her palace in Tangier (the distractingly large rock on her ring was "the pasha" diamond. Sometimes though, a girl wants to go out for a night on the town incognito. A famous tiara topping ones head can be a major giveaway. On the other hand, one can feel naked without ones emeralds, so what’s a resourceful heiress do? Why turn the tiara upside down, wear it as a necklace, and don a mask. Time marched on and most of her money was spent. While Barbara eventually lost with her emeralds as part of the divorce settlement to husband number seven, Prince Pierre Raymond Doan Vinh na Champassak(a title she purchased for the man previously known simply as "Raymond Doan") seen here with Doris in happier days. She managed to hold on to her ruby necklace/tiara until her death though. When you’re down to your last $3,500 in the bank – you want to make sure to hang onto jewels that can be adapted to different occasions – which, thanks to her ability to recycle, and probably the closest she ever came to thrift, is exactly what she did.