The Cartier heirlooms, containing unusual diamonds, rubies and emeralds have been bequeathed to a small and relatively unknown university in St Louis, Missouri, writes Lucy Hodges.
The jewels, including the engagement ring worn by Elma Cartier, who married the legendary Pierre, one of three brothers who ran the international jewellry company, are valued at $2.3 million.
The paintings, photographs, family portraits and documents have not yet been appraised. But St Louis University, a Jesuit institution with 11,500 students, is happy to have them.
"We knew we were getting some of her family heirlooms, but when we realised before she died that the jewels were to be part of the collection, we were very surprised," said the Rev J. Barry McGannon, the university chancellor and a Jesuit priest who got to know Marion Cartier, the only child of Pierre, over 11 years.
Marion Cartier died last year at the age of 83. She resumed her maiden name after separating from husband, Pierre Claudel. In her twilight years, she wanted to know more about St Louis, Missouri, where her mother was born and lived as the daughter of a rich merchant.
The search led her to contact the university. She met Rev McCannon, then vice president for development (effectively fund-raising), and a friendship bloomed. He visited her in Switzerland where she lived and corresponded by telephone and letter. In 1993 the university, founded in 1818 to become the first west of the Mississippi, named a renovated building Cartier House in her honour.
When university officials heard she had decided to leave her family collection to the institution, they had no idea how much would be sent across the Atlantic. It occupied 14 large crates, and is on display at a special exhibition on the campus.
The university said that Marion Cartier wanted her letters, manuscripts and paintings to be preserved in the city of her mother's birth. She hoped that her donation would give a glimpse into the lives of one of Europe's and the United States' truly international families.
What is stunning about the collection is not its value, but its unusual nature. Pierre Cartier had jewels specially made for his wife and daughter, Marion. On display is a pocket watch with "Elma", his wife's name inscribed in diamonds, as well as an Art Deco enamel vanity case depicting three dogs inlaid with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.