A glimpse at the different passions of Barbara Sinatra: Frank, fine jewellery, and philanthropy
Frank and Barbara Sinatra
The love for a good romantic story is as timeless as the human fascination for jewels. In fact, the two often intertwine. Think of the legendary love affair between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and the fabled jewellery the Duke of Windsor gave his American wife. Or the gifts, particularly of lavish diamonds, that Richard Burton presented to Elizabeth Taylor in the course of their famous on-again, off-again romance.
Last December saw the auction by Sotheby’s in New York of the collections from another greatly celebrated 20th-century pair — that of Frank and Barbara Sinatra. Entitled Lady Blue Eyes: Property of Barbara and Frank Sinatra, the sale brought together fine art, decorative art, and furniture owned by the couple, including the highlight of the auction — a selection of Mrs Sinatra’s personal jewellery collection. Ranging from daytime gold pieces by Marina B., worn at Palm Springs lunches and tennis events, to the ultra-glamorous diamond and gemstone pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels that she wore at award shows, concerts, and social engagements with Frank and their friends, the jewellery spanned some 26 years beginning from their courtship before their marriage in 1976, to Frank’s death in 1998.
Barbara Sinatra wearing an Emerald and Diamond Bangle-Bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels
And like most Hollywood romances, it was larger than life. Born in Missouri soon after the Great Depression, Barbara Ann Blakeley’s family moved to California when she was a teen. The Sinatra-mania had already gripped the country by then, and Barbara would sneak to her local drive-in to listen to Frank’s songs. She was an amazing self-starter: opening a modelling school, launching her own cosmetics line, and becoming a consultant to the first Miss Universe pageant. In between, she found time to marry and have a son.
After her first marriage ended, she met Zeppo Marx of the Marx Brothers while working as a showgirl in Las Vegas. They later married and moved to Palm Springs, to a house where Frank Sinatra was their next-door neighbour. She was soon moving in Frank’s ‘desert rats’ circle, with the likes of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Gregory and Veronique Peck, Dinah Shore, and the Kirk Douglases. So when Frank finally kissed her, she recalled, “I fell so hard for him that I didn’t really have a choice”.
The 20.60ct emerald-cut diamond ring, which Frank famously gifted to Barbara in a glass of champagne
Her marriage to Marx now being over, four tempestuous years of courtship with Frank followed. The emerald-cut 20.60ct diamond ring offered in the auction is from this period, and bears a famous provenance. Frank loved surprising Barbara, and on this occasion he threw two huge jewels onto the bed, telling her to pick one. He then had the chosen stone set, and proposed by dropping the ring into Barbara’s glass of champagne — this scene has become part of Hollywood lore.
The couple was married in Palm Springs; Frank was 60, Barbara 49. She wrote: “Being Mrs. Frank Sinatra took some getting used to, but my romantic husband went out of his way to make me feel loved and cherished every day”. Frank would slip diamond bracelets into the pocket of her dressing gown and leave her loving notes, which she kept all her life.
Mystery-Set ruby and diamond bracelets, VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
Among the highlights of the auction is a series of ‘Mystery-Set’ jewellery by Van Cleef & Arpels, including ruby and diamond bracelets, a pair of ruby and diamond pendant-ear clips, and a ruby and diamond brooch. There’s also a stunning pair of multi-coloured sapphire and diamond ear clips by Marina B. Many of these pieces were fashioned to Barbara’s personal specifications by her jewellers of choice, and a number of them were picked out and gifted to Barbara by Frank himself, including, of course, the 20.60ct emerald-cut diamond engagement ring.
While marriage to Frank immersed Barbara in a world of glamour and celebrity, it also helped her when she developed a passion for philanthropy. Frank helped her set up the Barbara Sinatra Centre for Abused Children, auctioning some of his paintings to raise funds.
Barbara and Frank Sinatra
Away from the limelight, Barbara and Frank led a cosy domestic life, enjoying their dogs, tennis, poker and golf. On their 20th wedding anniversary, they retook their vows. Frank Sinatra died in 1998; Barbara in 2017 at the age of 90. Till the end, Barbara would fill the house with Frank’s music from morning to night, and each room with awards, statues, and tinselled photos of the couple in happier times, many of which were offered at the auction.
All images courtesy of Sotheby’s