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Disney Jewels Are All the Rage in the Auction World

Levi Higgs
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Christies/Getty

When you have the perfect storm of two 20th-century titans of industry coming together to work on a project, perhaps the least expected final result would be a Pinocchio-themed charm bracelet. 

Yet in the 1930s and ’40s, when Cartier and Disney joined forces to make souvenir jewelry for some of Walt Disney Productions’ most beloved films, charm bracelets and other golden curios were exactly what they produced and marketed to Americans ravenous for the new and exciting medium of animation. 

In the late 1930s, the simple 14K gold and enamel charm bracelets retailed for $100—but at Christie’s New York this April a rare Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Cartier charm bracelet sold for $118,750 soaring over its estimate of $15,000-$20,000. Fans of Disney film memorabilia were excited for such a scarce souvenir to turn up at auction, and jewelry collectors were tantalized by a pristinely kept Cartier jewel created in the golden age of film. Naturally, it was a highly sought-after jewel on offer.

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Now, on Dec. 11, Christie’s will auction another rare Cartier charm bracelet, this time depicting the characters of Pinocchio. The auction estimate for the Pinocchio jewel has interestingly gone up, and is placed at $20,000-$30,000.

Most probably coaxed out of a safety deposit box by the success of the Snow White bracelet in April, this Pinocchio charm bracelet was made a bit later. Produced in 1940, the 14K gold bracelet has charms that feature Pinocchio, the Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Cleo, and Figaro, all painstakingly painted in enamel with such detail it is as though the characters have jumped off the silver screen directly onto one’s wrist. While Snow White was the highest-grossing film of 1938, Pinocchio flopped in 1940, only to be reissued later in 1945. The song “When You Wish Upon a Star” did win an Academy Award for best song that year, however, and has since gone on to become a Disney icon, playing wistfully over the opening title sequence of nearly every modern Disney film. 

Courtesy Levi Higgs

Associate specialist in the Christie’s New York jewelry department, Claibourne Poindexter, spoke to The Daily Beast about the phenomenon that is the Disney Cartier charm bracelet. Poindexter told us a bit about the history of the collaboration between Disney and Cartier, saying that the bracelets “were retailed through I. Magnin in Los Angeles, which was a high-end fashion department store that had locations across the West Coast. Walt Disney himself became a marketing powerhouse, but this was still within the first 10 years of the creation of Disney, and it is an incredible and early collaboration between a top European jewelry house and at the time, what was quickly becoming an iconic American brand.”

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When asked what type of collector might be bidding for this sort of object, Poindexter mentioned that “people who collect Disneyana go crazy for them, in addition to collectors of Cartier jewelry so it really is a perfect storm in terms of cross-category collecting. Disney provides such fond memories for people regardless of background and I think the bracelet appealed to many people because it recalled their childhood. I was on the phone with a client who was going to buy it to wear with her children the first time she took them to Disney World!”

"Mr. and Mrs. Walt Disney and Leopold Stowkowski (left) arriving at the Carthay Circle Theater, for the Hollywood premiere of Disney's Fantasia."

Bettmann/Getty

Aside from the public adoring these Cartier jewels, members of the Disney family themselves loved the collaboration as well. Lillian Disney, Walt’s wife, wore one of the Snow White charm bracelets to the premiere of the film in 1937 at the Carthay Circle Theatre. Walt also sported a golden money clip that had an enameled image of Dopey on it. Lillian’s particular charm bracelet is currently in the collection of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. It is rumored that Cartier’s in-house heritage collection, formally dubbed the Cartier Collection, also has a Snow White charm bracelet in its holdings, along with one that features the Three Little Pigs, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, as well as Mickey and Minnie Mouse. 

Another jewel that the Walt Disney Family Museum has in its possession is an 18K gold charm bracelet made of miniature Oscar statuettes, and each of the 20 statuettes is engraved with the name of a winning Disney film. After each win, Walt found he was able to purchase miniature Oscars, and eventually had them all set onto a bracelet, and gave it as a gift to Lillian. The bracelet is seemingly unsigned, but Lillian wore it often, and it appears in many historic images of husband and wife out on the red carpet, or even relaxing at home poolside in the 1950s. 

"Portrait of American movie producer, artist, and animator Walt Disney (1901 - 1966) and his wife, Lillian (nee Bounds, 1899 - 1997), as they pose outdoors, 1950s."

Gene Lester/Getty

In the wake of the blockbuster smash Frozen and its very recent sequel, with Anna and Elsa as tremendous money-makers for Disney, it’s interesting to think back to demure Snow White as Walt Disney’s most illustrious princess. Also, for Lillian Disney to parade around with the cartoon characters that built her husband’s fortune and empire enameled in gold around her wrist, as wrought by none other than the jewelry house Cartier, is peak American self-made opulence. The collision of the jewelry and the cartoon worlds of the 20th century is an unexpected hit, and created one of the most iconic collaborations of precious Americana. The audience at auction on Dec. 11 will be waiting to see whether Pinocchio can out-perform Snow White.

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