Barbara Walters’ Hidden Gems Go to Auction

“One night, Barbara invited Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick,” remembers Pamela Gross, the former CNN producer and close friend of the late Barbara Walters. “She had a beautiful piano in her living room, and after dinner, Barbara and Sarah and Matthew gathered around the piano and started singing old tunes, and the rest of us were just pinching ourselves. It was such a special night, but that’s the way Barbara lived.”

The newswoman, who died in December 2022 at the age of 93, also counted luminaries like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, Hugh Jackman, and Andrew Lloyd Webber among the coterie of friends who flocked to her Upper East Side apartment for dinners and parties. Her home’s thoughtful decor, overseen by famed interior designer Mario Buatta, as well as jewelry and other personal items Walters loved are now the focus of the estate auction, “Barbara Walters: American Icon,” produced by Bonhams, along with Walters’ daughter, Jacqueline Danforth. The online auction runs Oct. 29 through Nov. 7, while the live auction will take place Nov. 6 at Bonhams’ New York showroom. Proceeds will be donated to Walters’ favorite charities, which were not specified by the auction house.

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Walters’ living room included paintings by Frank W Benson and William Merritt Chase.
Walters’ living room included paintings by Frank W. Benson and William Merritt Chase.

More than 300 lots shine a spotlight on Walters’ desire to live a graceful, elegant life, an idea reflected in a collection that included paintings by artists John Singer Sargent, John Whorf and William Merritt Chase. “To me it’s a constellation of stars, and the Sargent is the brightest of those stars,” says Morgan Martin, head of American art at Bonhams. “It’s clear not only that she did her research but also that she connected to these paintings in a deeply personal way. The John Whorf, for example, hung over her bed, and she told people it reminded her of her mother, and this makes sense because it’s a painting of the Boston Public Gardens, and Barbara was raised in Boston.” Sargent’s Egyptian Woman (Coin Necklace), painted in 1891, is estimated to fetch between $1.2 million to $1.8 million, while Whorf’s circa 1950s Swan Boat, Boston Public Gardens carries an auction estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.

A pair of JAR gemset earrings with an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000.
A pair of JAR gemset earrings with an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000.

Walters also possessed an enviable jewelry collection, with pieces that include a Harry Winston engagement ring (estimate: $600,000 to $900,000) showcasing a 13.84-carat emerald-cut diamond set in platinum, given to her by producer Merv Adelson, to whom Walters was married not once but twice: from 1981 to 1984 and from 1986 to 1992. Other jewels include a ruby and diamond floral brooch (estimated at $12,000 to $18,000) Walters wore to a 1991 event, where she was photographed alongside Audrey Hepburn, as well as three pairs of bespoke gemstone and diamond earrings by Paris-based designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal, known by jewelry aficionados as JAR. The earrings range in their auction estimates from $150,000 to $300,000 a pair.

The ruby flower brooch has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.
The ruby flower brooch has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.

“She was a sophisticated and chic jewelry collector,” notes Caroline Morrissey, director and head of jewelry at Bonhams in New York. “Not everyone is bold enough to wear pieces by JAR or have him create bespoke pieces for them, but if anyone could, it was Barbara Walters. JAR also creates pieces based on personalities, so it’s not surprising that she owned these three pairs of super bold and lively, fun earrings because they match her personality perfectly.”

Gross agrees. “Barbara had such an amazing eye for design; everything she wore and everything she did had such a sense of personal style,” she says. “From the way she dressed to how her dinner table was set and the people she gathered in her home — every detail was personal, and nothing was by accident. I miss her very much.”

From left Carolyne Roehm, Audrey Hepburn and Barbara Walters wearing a brooch that’s in the auction in 1991.
From left Carolyne Roehm, Audrey Hepburn and Barbara Walters (wearing a brooch that’s in the auction) in 1991.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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