The real reason I’m giving away £1.5million worth of jewels is my greatest love story of all, by BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD
Bestselling author auctioning jewellery to provide a legacy for her heirs
Every sparkle tells a story. Every clasp has been opened and closed with love. Every piece of metal has been warmed against my skin by a flush of delight.
Viewing my jewellery collection, gathered over 50 years of my long and happy marriage to my beloved husband, Bob Bradford, I see more than simply an array of beautiful baubles.
One of the directors from the auctioneer Bonhams, tasked with overseeing these 40 precious pieces, saw it, too.
‘Normally, when we’re selling, it’s because someone is divorcing or needs to pay alimony,’ he commented. ‘This jewellery is unusual because it’s the story of a happy marriage.’
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He was right: it was all there, resting against velvet cushions, the highs and lows, laughter and tears of a half-a-century-long romance.
There were the diamonds purchased as a private joke; the diamond Bulgari bracelet, a symbol of stoicism in a difficult time; the Piaget diamond watch, the initial chill of which I can still recall as it closed around my wrist for the first time during a romantic break in Paris.
Bob always says he doesn’t need an occasion to give me a piece of jewellery — only a reason. My collection spans the whole story of our marriage. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases and book completions. Each time, Bob delights in finding something unusual and meaningful.
So why am I selling them? Well, I want to give the money to my two female heirs, who I’d rather not name.
Sadly, Bob and I never had children, but I’d love these ladies to be able to enjoy a little nest-egg. Bonhams says that with people bidding, the sale will make at least £1.5 million.
Ideally, I want the jewellery which has symbolised my happy marriage to become part of another happy union. I want it to be admired and enjoyed, not locked away.
So that is why, as we near our 50th wedding anniversary, I am happy to sell these jewels of mine. I’m also giving part of my couture dress collection to a fashion museum and the Lighthouse Charity for the Blind, which sells such clothes to raise funds. Am I sad to see these pieces go? Well, no, because I still have the man who gave them to me.
I know if Bob was no longer beside me I wouldn’t have the courage to part with any of them. But I have him, hearty, laughing, loving and still buying me jewellery. And it’s the man, not possessions, which are important in my life.
Ever since I was a little girl, jewellery has enchanted me. Growing up in Leeds, my mother, Freda, adored her jewellery. My earliest memories are of dressing up in her heels, wrapping her silk scarf as a turban around my head and fastening it with one of her beautiful diamante pins. It sparked my lifelong love of brooches.
Meanwhile, as a young Jewish boy growing up in Berlin before World War II, Bob used to sit watching his mother, Doris, fastening her jewellery. He never forgot the happiness it gave her.
Those memories were to become all the more precious because, at the age of eight, Bob kissed his mother goodbye when she hastily put him on a train to Paris to escape Nazi persecution.
He never saw her again. She fled to New York, and after the war Bob sailed to meet her — only to discover when he arrived that she had died three weeks earlier, from a heart attack.
The first piece of jewellery I ever owned was given to me by my father, Winston. A modest engineer by trade, he nevertheless adored beautiful gems and would spoil me, his only child, whenever he could.
For my 18th birthday, he bought me my first string of pearls, and urged me never to keep them in their box. ‘They are to be worn, Barbara,’ he said. ‘They need to be on display.’
It was advice I tried to follow dutifully. As a struggling trainee journalist, it didn’t matter if I couldn’t afford expensive clothes — my pearls gave me glamour.
After I moved to London, I rented a ground-floor flat in Mayfair. One day, I left for work leaving the jewellery my father had given me safely hidden away… or so I thought. If only I’d heeded my father’s advice and worn them that day, for someone broke into my flat and stole my gems.
I rarely cry, but on that occasion I wept bitterly.
A few years later, in 1961 aged 28, I met Bob, a young film producer, on a blind date. Within minutes of meeting him, I felt as though I had known this handsome man all my life.
At some point in those heady early days of love, I must have confided in Bob about my love of jewellery. The first piece he ever bought me was a little gold ring, with the tiniest, most delicate overlapping leaves.
I remember the jump of my heart as he gave me the ring. I wear it to this day, and I couldn’t bear to part with it, so it will not be part of the collection I am selling.
Bob then bought me pearls to replace the beautiful ones from my father. It was 1963, we were about to be married, and as Bob fastened the three-tiered string around my neck, my mother said: ‘A man should always buy you pearls.’
Bob followed her advice to the letter. Over the years, the pearls kept coming — Bob took great joy in choosing white pearls, pink pearls and golden pearls.
The grey pearl necklace and earrings I am selling were a Christmas present from Bob. I loved them, but over the years my skin tone has changed, and white, golden and pink pearls suit me better. So I’m happy to sell these, although they have the most extraordinary quality of changing colour in different light, going from sleek silver to almost black.
Like those pearls, our marriage changed in hue over time. We wanted children, and when I fell pregnant two years after our wedding, we were thrilled. But it was not to be.
I suffered a miscarriage, and although I wept, we hoped I would fall pregnant again. Two years later, I did, but this, too, ended in miscarriage and I was distraught.
Still, we clung to the hope that it would happen for us eventually, but it never did. Sometimes, as we watch our friends bounce grandchildren and great-grandchildren on their knees, I’ve asked Bob whether he misses not having a child. But his reply is always the same: ‘Sometimes I think about it, but we’ve got each other.’
He’s right. Although I, too, wonder what life would have been like as a family, I know some things would have been the same. I still would have written books. Bob still would have produced films. And I still would have loved and worn the jewellery he has treated me to.
Each piece is precious to me, and brings back a memory. Like our trip to Paris, for example, in 1981.
We went there to celebrate the French release of my first novel A Woman Of Substance, and Bob took me to the renowned jeweller Perrin. I always felt lost if I wasn’t wearing a watch, and Bob had insisted I needed something dressier. There, sitting under the counter, was a beautiful Piaget diamond and gold watch bracelet. I remember gasping at its beauty.
I look at it now and it represents the romance and promise of years more to come. But it’s far too beautiful to languish in a safe.
Bob and I were living in New York in the early Eighties when I started work on my second novel. I slipped on the kitchen floor one day and slammed my wrist against the counter top.
I knew before I had landed that it was broken. My whole hand was set in plaster, and yet I had a deadline for my book. We were spending Christmas in Acapulco, and Bob had arranged for me to have a typewriter in our villa.
I got up each morning, and sat clunking at the typewriter despite the heavy plaster cast. On our return to New York, Bob went straight out and returned to our apartment with a gift — a gold diamond bracelet from Bulgari.
He put it on my left arm, and said: ‘This is your badge of honour. You earned it for being so professional.’
In the early Eighties, Bob and I decided to renew our wedding vows on a Caribbean island. Bob gave me another wedding ring, a Trinity ring in three shades of gold by Cartier.
I have two other wedding rings, which I joke is Bob making sure I know I am definitely married to him! I’m selling this one because I wear the others more, and it is too beautiful to remain in a safe.
The truth is, without children to distract us, we’ve always looked after each other. Bob pampers me, chides me, irritates me and loves me in equal measure. And we’ve always enjoyed our private jokes.
My desire for a diamond bracelet, for instance, became a running theme for many years. It started when my publisher, HarperCollins, threw a party for me around 1980.
The company director announced: ‘Barbara, we have a very special gift for you and we hope you’ll love it.’
I saw a white box tied with white ribbon and blurted out: ‘Oh, a diamond bracelet.’ There was a horrible silence, and the boss looked incredibly embarrassed. ‘Erm, no,’ he said, handing me the box.
When I opened it, there was a white dog collar with a silver name plate engraved with our dog’s name. After this, Bob and I started a running joke. If he ever said: ‘I’ve got something for you’, I’d clasp my hands together and say: ‘It’s a diamond bracelet — at last!’
In 1986, I visited Bob at Shepperton Studios, where he was working on the film version of my novel Hold The Dream. We crept away to the studio canteen for lunch, and Bob asked me to hold out my hand, and dropped something into it. When I looked down, there was a beautiful antique diamond and platinum bracelet.
‘Now, you don’t have to mention that diamond bracelet ever again!’ Bob smiled.
For our 21st anniversary, Bob remembered a passage from my book A Woman Of Substance, where the heroine’s lover buys her an emerald to match her eyes. I, too, have green eyes and Bob bought me a beautiful green tourmaline and diamond pendant and ring.
For our 42nd wedding anniversary in 2005, he bought me a Keshi pearl and diamond brooch. Fashioned like a star, with diamond-encrusted points, it was one of the most dramatic show-stoppers I’d ever seen.
I wore it many times, and almost every time someone has asked if they could buy it.
It reminded me of my father’s words about not hiding jewellery away from admiring eyes. I want these pieces, which meant so much to me, to be worn by another woman, bought for her by a man who is in love.
I asked Bob what he thought, and he said: ‘I bought them for you. What you do with them is your decision.’
I have what I want most in my life now — which is Bob. The simple truth is, I don’t need anything else.
Selected jewels from The Collection of Barbara Taylor Bradford, bonhams.com. They go under the hammer at Bonhams, New Bond Street, London, on December 5.