Spitfire Philanthropist Brooke Astor Spreads Her Wealth From Beyond the Grave

Spitfire New York socialite, philanthropist and emerald-lover, Brooke Astor, had a great motto: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.”

Well, even though Astor passed away in 2007 at the age of 105, she continued to spread her wealth this week via a Sotheby’s auction that generated $18.8 million for her beloved charities.

Among the fabulous items up for auction were hundreds of personal possessions from her estate, including 64 lots of jewelry. The jewelry alone generated $5.7 million, $2 million above their high estimate.

The highlight of the auction was a platinum necklace made by Bvlgari in 1959. A gift from her husband, Vincent Astor, the breathtaking piece is set with 13 drop emeralds weighing approximately 71 carats, 14 cabochon emeralds (41 carats), 14 marquise diamonds (8.5 carats) and numerous brilliant-cut diamonds weighing 50 carats.

The necklace entered the auction with an estimate of $250,000-$350,000. It ended up selling for almost twice that — $686,500.

Astor stands before a portrait of her late husband, Vincent Astor, in her Park Avenue home in this photo from 1992.

Brooke Astor recounted in her 1980 autobiography that the necklace and matching earrings were commissioned during a trip that she and her husband took to London in autumn 1958. He died the following spring and Brooke did not know the jewelry had been ordered. Nearly two years later, she received a letter from the house of Bvlgari with the details of the pieces as well a note penned by her husband asking for the jewelry to be delivered on Brooke’s birthday. She completed the purchase with Bvlgari and considered the necklace to be the last and most memorable gift from her loving husband.

Another important piece from Astor’s collection was her platinum and diamond engagement ring featuring an emerald center stone weighing 22.84 carats. It carried a pre-auction estimate of $100,000-$150,000 and sold for $1.2 million.

Pair of platinum, emerald and diamond earclips by Verdura were estimated at $30,000-$40,000 and sold for $152,000. Platinum, emerald and diamond brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels was estimated at $60,000-$80,000, but sold for $254,500.

The organizations selected by Astor to benefit from her estate included the New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pierpont Morgan Library, Animal Medical Center of New York, and the New York City Schools.

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