Rebekah Harkness’ Dalí Starfish Sells for Almost $1M

AuctionsJun 15, 2023

Rebekah Harkness’ Dalí Starfish Sells for Almost $1M

The Standard Oil heiress’ surrealist brooch, as well as its original concept art, found a new owner at Christie’s New York last week.

Étoile De Mer by Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí’s surrealist piece “Étoile De Mer” consists of a starfish brooch and two butterflies that once belonged to Rebekah Harkness. It recently sold for just under $1 million at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in New York on June 7. (Photo courtesy of Christie’s)
New York— A starfish brooch by Salvador Dalí that once belonged to Rebekah Harkness, the Standard Oil heiress Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” introduced to a new generation, sold for $982,000 at Christie’s June 7 jewelry auction.

According to The Art Newspaper, it was the most valuable piece of jewelry by the Spanish surrealist artist to ever sell at auction, though the brooch fell below its $1 million-1.5 million estimate.

The piece, “Étoile De Mer,” incorporates cultured pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds and includes two butterfly pins set with emeralds, sapphires, and colored diamonds.

A surrealist detail, the butterflies feature a versatile design that allows the wear to attach them to one of the starfish’s arms or wear them separately.

Salvador Dalí brooch Étoile De Mer
“Étoile De Mer” includes two butterfly pins with a versatile design allowing for attachment to a starfish arm or separate wear (Photo courtesy of Christie’s)

Christie’s sold the brooch before, at a New York jewelry auction in October 1995.

In a separate lot, the piece’s original design art on paper sold for $52,920, falling within its pre-sale estimate of $40,000 to $60,000, to the same bidder who bought the brooch, according to The Art Newspaper.

Christie’s did not respond by press time when asked to confirm details of the brooch’s sale.

The handmade drawing of the starfish is watercolor heightened with white gouache, collage, pencil, pen and brown ink with traces of blue ball-point pen on paper, according to Christie’s. It is framed, signed, dated and titled, and features the inscription, “G Dali 1950 Etoile de Mer...”

It also previously appeared in Christie’s New York auctions, once with the brooch in October 1995 and again in October 2009.

The artwork includes a design that shows the starfish draped over a hand.

Salvador Dalí original design art of Étoile De Mer
Salvador Dalí’s original design art for his starfish piece, Étoile De Mer, sold for $52,920 at Christie’s auction June 7. (Photo courtesy of Christie’s)

Jewelry historian and author Marion Fasel wrote in a story for her site, The Adventurine, that, to her knowledge, “a mechanism to wear it in this mode was never worked out. The melted watch in one of the arms on the design clearly didn’t make it into the final version of the jewel either.”

Instead of on her hand, Harkness was seen wearing the starfish in a myriad of ways, like provocatively clinging to her breast or draped over her shoulder.

Rebekah Harkness wearing the Dalí starfish brooch
Rebekah Harkness wearing the Dalí starfish brooch (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“Don’t ask me how she made it stay that way because I have no idea,” Fasel said in the article.

Fasel also featured the piece in her 2020 book, “Beautiful Creatures: Jewelry Inspired by the Animal Kingdom.”

The following year, she curated a supporting exhibition for the animal pieces, including the brooch, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

A patron of the arts herself, Harkness (née West) was born in 1915 to a prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri, and she grew up pursuing a passion for music and dance. 

In 1947, she married her second husband, Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness, and the duo purchased a ‘30s Rhode Island mansion they named Holiday House.

The home was the site of the couple’s well-known grand parties featuring high-society guests, which continued even after Harkness was widowed in 1954. 

In 2013, Swift reportedly paid $17 million for the beachfront property, and references describes Harkness’ years of lush living there in her 2020 song “The Last Great American Dynasty.” 

Swift even refers to her muse’s closeness with the Étoile De Mer designer, recounting in the song how Harkness, “Blew through the money on the boys and the ballet/ And losin’ on card game bets with Dalí.”  

 Related stories will be right here … 

Harkness founded her own ballet company and often commissioned prominent artists to paint sets and backdrops for her shows, like Dalí, who became her friend.

Beyond painting, Dalí also enjoyed other mediums like sculpting, film and jewelry design, which he began dabbling in around the 1930s.

“His inspiration for the jewelry design came from everyday objects, animals, parts of the anatomy and religious figures,” Christie’s said. “His brilliance was his ability to transform these concepts into wearable works of art.”

In the 1940s, Dalí began taking the craft more seriously. He collaborated on a collection with Fulco di Verdura in 1941 before designing the Étoile de Mer for Harkness in 1949.

That same year, he signed a contract with jewelry manufacturer Alemany & Company, where Carlos Alemany brought the starfish to life.

Christie’s said Dalí found interest in the starfish’s symbolism of renewal, which inspired the creation of surrealist details, like the sprouting gold branches with emerald leaves that extend from the core of the sea star.

Though Harkness died in 1982 and the Harkness Ballet company’s doors have closed, she and Dalí (1904-1989) have a connection that transcends this world, as she asked that the artist design the urn that holds her ashes.

It has been reported that the $250,000 urn was too small to fit the entirety of her remains.

The Latest

National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith
ColumnistsFeb 20, 2024
Squirrel Spotting: Life After Rolex

Peter Smith shares advice from independent jewelers who used losing this cornerstone brand as a catalyst for reinvention.

Stuller bench jeweler
Events & AwardsFeb 20, 2024
Stuller to Host Bench Jeweler Workshop in March

Registration is also open for its “Battle of the Benches” challenge.

Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers
IndependentsFeb 16, 2024
Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers Dies at 99

Gorman was an industry trailblazer, serving as the first female treasurer of Jewelers of America.

GIA id100
Brought to you by
Full Disclosure at Your Fingertips

Distinguishing natural diamonds from laboratory-grown stones – now more available than ever – has been difficult for jewelers. Until now.

Jade Ruzzo gold and diamond Tennessee Torque necklace
CollectionsFeb 16, 2024
Piece of the Week: Jade Ruzzo’s Tribute to Tennessee

The movement of the 18-karat gold and diamond “Tennessee Torque” necklace is subtle.

Weekly QuizFeb 15, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this short test.
Take the Quiz
Jared Goff and Claudia Cividino
MajorsFeb 15, 2024
Detroit Lions’ QB Jared Goff Going to Jared

Goff, whose fans hold up “He Went to Jared” signs at games, has signed a partnership with the retailer.

De Beers Venetia diamond mine
SourcingFeb 15, 2024
De Beers’ Production Down 8% in 2023

The company recovered 31.9 million carats of diamonds in 2023, compared with 34.6 million in 2022.

flashforge pic.png
Brought to you by
WaxJet: Revolution in Jewelry Manufacturing

The WaxJet 400, recognized as the world's fastest wax printer, is bringing in a new era of precision and efficiency to industry.

Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association (IDCA) awards
Events & AwardsFeb 15, 2024
IDCA Hands Out Awards in Tucson

The association also celebrated its 40th anniversary.

A selection of engagement rings
TrendsFeb 14, 2024
5 Engagement Ring Trends for 2024

From three-stone rings to fancy shapes, experts weigh in on what consumers could be looking for this year.

Boucheron Power of Couture
CollectionsFeb 14, 2024
Boucheron’s New High Jewelry Collection Pays Homage to Ceremony, History

“Power of Couture” recalls Frédéric Boucheron’s love of fabric using diamonds and rock crystal.

Rough diamonds from Gahcho Kue diamond mine
SourcingFeb 14, 2024
De Beers’ Rough Diamond Sales Improve Slightly

The diamond miner and marketer said “solid” holiday sales in the U.S. helped stabilize the industry.

Jonker I Diamonds
SourcingFeb 14, 2024
‘100 Carats’ Exhibition Opens at LA Museum

A new display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County features dozens of gemstones each weighing 100 carats or more.

Grand Seiko New York City flagship
WatchesFeb 14, 2024
See Inside Grand Seiko’s New NYC Flagship

Located on Madison Avenue, the store is its largest in the world.

GIA logo
GradingFeb 14, 2024
GIA Offering Discounts on Jade Reports

The 20 percent off promotion will run through March 31.

KIL Promotions NYC Spring Jewelry and Object Show
Events & AwardsFeb 14, 2024
KIL NYC Show Returns for Spring Edition

Its second trade event will feature vintage pieces and contemporary collections.

Lydia Courteille Lips ring
TrendsFeb 13, 2024
Amanda’s Style File: Symbols of Love

When it comes to Valentine’s Day jewels, the fun doesn’t stop at hearts.

Nana and Jennifer
Events & AwardsFeb 13, 2024
First Responders Win BIJC’s Second ‘Together by Design’ Contest

The couple won a bespoke engagement ring set with a 1.44-carat fancy yellow diamond and designed by Michael Hogan.

Claire’s The Collab campaign
MajorsFeb 13, 2024
Claire’s New Campaign Is for ‘Gen Zalpha’

Its new brand ambassadors, ages 7 to 17, will have some creative control over the ad campaign, called “The Collab.”

Arch Crown 2024 Tag & Label Catalog
MajorsFeb 13, 2024
Arch Crown’s 2024 Tag & Label Catalog Is Out

The book offers solutions for all retailers’ price tagging needs, the company said.

Muzo Private Collection royal orb
SourcingFeb 12, 2024
Muzo’s Collection of Shipwrecked Emeralds Makes US Debut

The three pieces, recovered from a 17th century shipwreck, are set with emeralds from Colombia’s Muzo mine.

Frank Adams Jewelers flagship
IndependentsFeb 12, 2024
Frank Adams Jewelers Moves to New Flagship

The fourth-generation family jeweler’s new store is twice the size of its previous location.

WJA logo
MajorsFeb 12, 2024
WJA Launches First Canadian Chapter

The association also announced WJA Toronto’s board of directors.

John Hardy Naga Dragon necklace
CollectionsFeb 09, 2024
Piece of the Week: John Hardy’s Reimagined Dragon

Creative Chairman Reed Krakoff has modernized one of the brand’s most well-known motifs ahead of the Year of the Dragon.

Pomellato high jewelry earrings
FinancialsFeb 09, 2024
Jewelry Cited as a Bright Spot in ‘Trying’ Year for Kering

The luxury conglomerate owns Boucheron, Pomellato, DoDo, and Qeelin.

GIA logo
GradingFeb 08, 2024
GIA Helps Recover Stolen Diamonds

The lab identified the stones when an uninvolved diamond dealer sent them in for grading.

Watches of Switzerland store in the Mall of America
FinancialsFeb 08, 2024
Watches of Switzerland’s Q3 Sales Dip Due to ‘Tough’ Holiday Season

While sales rose in the U.S. market, demand for watches and jewelry was slow in the U.K.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy