Vivien Leigh’s Ring to be sold at Bonhams

The Art of Jewels Sale to be held by Bonhams on 4 December in London is shaping up to be a star-studded event. A stunning 18th century diamond, ruby and emerald ring, given by Vivien Leigh, the female star of the Hollywood blockbuster Gone with the Wind, to her life-long friend, is expected to fetch £1,500-2,000.

The “giardinetto” ring, designed as a bouquet of flowers, was a gift from the actress Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) to the vendor’s grandmother, the actress Mercia Swinburne (1900-1993). The pair became life-long friends after they were introduced by Vivien’s husband, Sir Laurence Olivier.

Mercia and her husband George Relph acted in many performances with the Oliviers, including a number of plays during a six-month tour with the Old Vic Theatre Company of Australia and New Zealand in 1948. The writer George Cotterell in his book Laurence Olivier, London, 1975, records, “The Old Vic touring party comprised ten administrative and technical staff and forty actors, including some of the Oliviers’ closest friends, most notably George Relph and his wife Mercia Swinburne”. Swinburne and Leigh performed alongside one another in The School for Scandal and in the Old Vic’s revered performance of The Skin of Our Teeth. The tour was met with high acclaim.

In the years after the Old Vic tour the two actresses remained in close contact. Not only were several gifts passed between Vivien and Mercia, but also many intimate notes and letters in which they shared their private lives and a trusted friendship.

In his 1969 biography of Vivien Leigh, Alan Dent mentions how “Miss Mercia Swinburne spoke to me eloquently and emotionally of her love for ‘Larry and Vivien’ which was deeply shared with that of her husband, the late George Relph. Both, as I know full well, did capital work with the Oliviers in Shakespeare, Sheridan,…etc, both in England and on an Australian tour…”. Equally, it is clear Leigh regarded Mercia highly. Dent records: “More than once in her later days Vivien was heard to say that the friends she most deeply loved were ‘Victor [Stiebel], Bumble [Dawson] and Mercia [Swinburne].”

The ring is asymmetrically designed with a bouquet of flowers arranged in a facetted diamond vase. It has cushion and pear-shaped diamond flowerhead petals and this delicate composition is enhanced by similarly set ruby and emerald. The diamonds are mounted in silver and the coloured stones are in gold.

The Art of Jewels Sale, to be held by Bonhams, will also feature the jewellery collection of another famous Hollywood actress Deborah Kerr. Deborah Kerr (1921-2007) starred in over 50 films over four decades. Some of her best-loved movies include From Here to Eternity (1953) with Burt Lancaster, The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner and An Affair to Remember (1957) with Cary Grant. She was also a leading lady to Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, James Mason, Stewart Granger, David Niven and Spencer Tracy.

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11 2008

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