By Brecken Branstrator
This gold, ruby and amethyst starfish brooch from Rene Boivin was created under Jeanne Boivin, who took over her husband’s eponymous company after his death in 1917. (Photo credit: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Boston—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is well known among jewelry lovers for its curation and collections, and the museum is reminding us exactly why with a recent acquisition.

The MFA recently acquired a gold, ruby and amethyst starfish brooch made in 1937 by Parisian house René Boivin. The piece, purchased from gem and jewelry dealer Lee Siegelson, is iconic not only for its workmanship and rarity but also because it tells a fascinating story of several women.

The jewel was actually created under Jeanne Boivin, who took over her husband’s namesake company after his death in 1917, making her the first woman to direct a French jewelry house.

She insisted on being known professionally as Madame René Boivin, according to the museum, and worked with jewelry designers Juliette Moutard and Suzanne Belperron to establish jewelry’s avant-garde side.

Moutard designed the starfish brooch for René Boivin in 1935.

The piece features 71 cabochon rubies, faceted amethysts and 18-karat gold, and is fully articulated on each arm to allow the piece lifelike movement that mimics a starfish crawling along. It is also the same size as a real starfish.

20190705 Claudette insertThe Boivin starfish brooch acquired by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was once owned by Hollywood star Claudette Colbert, who is seen here wearing it in Photoplay magazine in November 1939. (Image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)French-born, American-raised Broadway and film actress Claudette Colbert bought the brooch from Boivin in 1937, two years after she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “It Happened One Night.”

As Hollywood’s highest-paid actress at the time, her sartorial choices—including pinning the Boivin starfish brooch to a coat shoulder or dress collar—were closely followed by both film and fashion publications, as seen in the inset photo.

The piece acquired by the MFA is the first of four known ruby-and-amethyst versions produced under Boivin and Moutard’s direction, according to the museum.

The starfish are also the subject of a 2018 book, “Diving for Starfish: The Jeweler, the Actress, the Heiress, and One of the World's Most Alluring Pieces of Jewelry” by Cherie Burns, chronicling the story of the pieces and the women who wore them.

“We’re thrilled to acquire one of the most important jewels that the house René Boivin ever produced,” said Emily Stoehrer, the MFA’s Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry. “This brooch tells a fascinating story of design in the early 20th century, including the central role played by women designers such as Juliette Moutard.”

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