Irish dash and charm adds to the sparkling glamour
Martin Nolan is auctioneer to the stars and, he tells our reporter, some people don't put a price on Hollywood gems
Luckily Martin Nolan is now well used to dealing with the type of people who would think nothing of wearing gems worth €40k to dinner. The Westmeath man has lived in LA for several decades and he now runs and co-owns Juliens - the auction house to the stars. This is where you go when you have a bit of money and a yen for halcyon glamour.
The company has handled collections from people such as Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, with some headline-grabbing recent items including extremely rare and poignant photos of Monroe as a child.
Later this year, Nolan will handle the auction for another notable collection of star memorabilia - the costume jewellery designed by Joseff of Hollywood - which is now on loan to the Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons in Kildare. Joseff created pieces for many of the biggest films and movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s, including Shirley Temple in The Little Princess, Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
"Joseff had been involved in advertising and the aviation industry", Nolan says.
"He became friends with Walter Plunkett, who was one of the most famous designers in the movie industry in that period. They saw several movies together and Josef commented that the costumes were wonderful but that the jewellery was not in keeping with the period. He told Plunkett he could do it better and that was how it started.
"He created all of Elizabeth Taylor's jewellery for Cleopatra, for instance, and the pieces worn by Marilyn Monroe in Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. He created a type of jewellery with a 'special recipe' so that the jewels beamed back colour and light perfectly after the invention of Technicolor. Joseff died in 1948 in a plane crash. He was a genius at what he did."
Nolan is himself regarded as a bit of a genius in his field. He got a Green Card in the late 1980s and went to work as a doorman and a hotel in New York, before deciding to train as a stockbroker.
A serendipitous meeting with Darren Julien, founder of Julien's Auctions, would change the course of his career. Nolan became the engine behind the famous auction house and merrily admits to trading on his Irishness - "You can't get away from it, people just light up when they hear you're from Ireland" - which might also partly explain how his Athlone accent remains intact after so many years in La La Land (the other reason is the teasing he would get at home, he says). He is the ringmaster for the hugely publicised auctions at which fragments of Hollywood iconography are sold to the highest bidder. He expects the upcoming jewellery auction to fetch around $4m.
"It's hugely pressurised, there are camera crews roaming everywhere and you have to do your best for the buyer and seller. There is a lot to think about but it all has to appear very seamless."
Although costume jewellery is less expensive than, say, real diamonds, Nolan says that many of the pieces featured were worn by stars for whom jewellery was a particular part of their mythology, which adds further to their value.
"You can't really think of Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe without getting an image of the beautiful jewels they wore.
"Monroe actually had very few pieces of real jewellery, it was all costume jewellery - which is extraordinary, really, when you think of the boyfriends she had.
"Actresses would also rent jewellery for the red carpet events from Joseff. He was very smart in that he also made much of the jewellery adjustable so that it could be made longer or shorter and became much more versatile in that way. Sometimes layers of a necklace could be removed."
So who buys jewellery like this?
"You have museums and investors, who know that something like this will likely appreciate in value. But then you also have the fanatical fans - and there are a lot of those.
"All over the world people can bid live. You have ladies who will wear Vivien Leigh's earrings from Gone With The Wind or Marilyn's necklace from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And what a great conversation piece as well as a connection with that old Hollywood glamour."
But it might be quite hard to relax wearing something worth a small mortgage around your neck? Nolan laughs heartily.
"Not at all. Trust me, for these people that money is nothing at all and well worth it. For them, it's all about owning a trophy piece."
'Hidden Gems', the Hollywood Jewellery Exhibition is at Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons until May 14. Entry is free. See newbridgesilverware.com/mosi
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