The lure of Camelot was too strong to resist. Here's what the buyers of some of the gems from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis auction have to say about their high-priced souvenirs.
September 16, 1996
Mary Pillsbury (left) overlooked the flaws in her emerald. "If it wasn't for Jackie (with Caroline, above, in 1980), I wouldn't have bought it," she says. Nancy (far left) cherishes the evening bag pictured in the signed photo of the Kennedys and spouse-to-be Carl that she keeps in the grand salon of her suburban Ladue home. In the bag, Nancy found Jackie's frosted-pink lipstick. “I wouldn’t think of touching it, it’s so intimate,” she says.
The Pillsbury twins -Nancy Pillsbury Shirley and Mary Pillsbury- St. Louis: Nancy bought a pearl brooch, $28,750, and an evening bag, $68,500. Mary bought an emerald-and-diamond pendant, $74,000, a faux-diamond brooch and a bangle bracelet, $19,550. Known in midwestern social circles for their vivacious personalities, the fraternal twins, 48, have never done anything on a moderate scale. And Nancy, who owns a marketing company, wanted that evening bag very badly. She already had a photo of Jackie holding it, with her own future husband, Carl Shirley, then a presidential aide, standing in the background. "I didn't care what it cost," she says. Mary, who owns a jewelry business, raced over to her sister's office for the phone bidding "to protect her from spending way too much," she explains. "I did tell her to stop bidding, but she politely -well, maybe not so politely- told me to be quiet." By the end of the night, both twins were thousands of dollars poorer. "I hopped on the bandwagon," Mary admits. "Imagine what we would have done if we had been there in person! We would've spent four times as much!"
Lynnette and Scott Rindner, Danvile, Calif.: Two pairs of faux-diamond-and-stone ear clips, $12,650. For eight years, the couple had been saving for the honeymoon they never had. Then Lynnette learned of the auction and ... well, forget Paris. "I loved Jackie and knew I couldn't stop until I had exhausted all efforts to obtain anything she had owned," says the 38-year-old homemaker and mother of three. But when attempts to submit their bids by phone failed, she and Scott, 40, a chief financial officer for a health-care management company, decided to fly to New York City to attend in person. Lynnette has no second thoughts about the trade-off, sporting the jewels at Little League games and on trips to the supermarket. "It's like part of Jackie's spirit came with these earrings," she says.
Carolee Friedlander, Greenwich, Conn.: 60-inch, faux-pear/necklace and pavé earrings, $83,081. She had done this before. The president and CEO of Carolee Designs, a costume jewelry company, made news with her 1987 Duchess of Windsor line inspired by the Sotheby's auction that year. Doing the same with the Onassis jewels, though, gave her pause. "Our initial reaction was, 'No, Jackie's too much of an American icon. She was more sacred. It won't be right,' " recalls Carolee, 53. But the overwhelming interest in the auction changed her mind. This fall she will launch a line of faux-pearl replicas of 17 auction pieces, including those that she purchased. After the gavel fell, though, Carolee still wasn't exactly Miss Cool. "When I went to pick them up, they said, 'Well, how would you like to pay for this?' I was like, 'Oh, yeah. I have to pay for all of this.' They'll only charge $25,000 on your credit card unless you've arranged it in advance. I felt like a numskull." She eventually produced a check.
Harry Wilks, Hamilton, Ohio: Heart shaped, 18-karat gold ear clips, $37,375. Actually, he had his mind set on something more masculine. The 71-year-old arts patron and retired lawyer went to Sotheby's hoping to buy one of John Kennedy's rocking chairs. "I thought it was symbolic of the Presidency," he says. But he was outbid when the piece went for $442,500. Then, as prices continued skyward, Wilks admits that he panicked. "I thought I better get something fast," he says. "To tell you the truth, I felt lucky to pay $37,000 for a pair of earrings! Now isn't that crazy?" Wilks will let his daughters Nanci, 43, and Barbara, 45, as well as his companion of 12 years, Carol Einsfeld, 53, wear the ear clips, but he does not intend to make a gift of them. They're destined for the sculpture park and museum that Wilks, a collector of Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian antiquities, is creating on his 250-acre estate. "If you give them to one person, they lose their historical significance," he says. "I didn't go there to buy jewelry. I went there to buy history."
Marciana Rodriguez, New York City: Two pairs of hoop ear clips and a Lanvin metal bracelet, $7,475. She didn't even have to shell out a dime. Rodriguez, a retired teacher from Puerto Rico, won the jewelry in a New York Daily News sweepstakes, but that doesn't mean she's happy with her Jackie-wear. "They are so big," she says of the clips. "I am too short to wear these. I cannot wear these to church." And the diamonds are fake. "I was surprised a rich woman was buying costume jewelry," says Rodriguez. "I was a little disappointed." Her solution: Sell! Rodriguez is on the lookout for a reputable dealer to help her. She'll then take her windfall on the road. "I want to go to Spain and Portugal," she says.
Lynda Rae Resnick, Beverly Hills: Three-strand, faux-pearl necklace, $211,500. Of course it was all for business. When the Franklin Mint bought the pearls, vice chairwoman Resnick thought only of displaying them in the museum and selling replicas for $195 a pop. But even she was seduced by Jackie's allure. "When I opened the box, I got chills," says Resnick, 51. "I had tears in my eyes. I could actually smell her perfume." And when she wore them, "I felt glorious," she says. Her daughter Ilene won't get that chance. Neither she nor her four brothers will inherit the pearls, which are company' property. "My kids are going to be happy with the replica," Resnick says.