More of Wolcott and Ellen
By Megan McKinney
Wolcott and Ellen Blair in Cannes, 1926.
When Wolcott and Ellen Blair were not moving elegantly back and forth between their personal establishments in Manhattan, Long Island, Palm Beach and Maine, they were traveling, sometimes in Europe, as above in Cannes, but also in more exotic locales, India, perhaps, or Tibet.
Ellen mounting an elephant circa 1935.
There were also the private house parties.
Wolcott Blair on horseback with George Widener at Widener’s MacKay Point, South Carolina Plantation.
George Widener at the charcoal grill, observed by Jack Pratt and Wolcott, right, with Libby Pratt.
Although much of the fame surrounding Ellen and Wolcott rose from the extraordinary Villa Blair, which we examined in a previous segment, they were also known for the jewelry they frequently commissioned, or otherwise purchased, to be worn by Ellen. This celebrity became near notoriety in 1935 when, in the midst of the Great Depression, their Long Island house was robbed of more than $100,000 worth of jewelry. Newspapers noted that although 10 servants were in the house (a Depression excess almost as newsworthy as the value of the stolen jewelry), the burglar escaped and the theft went undetected until the next day when Ellen asked that the jewelry be brought to her.
This enamel and diamond serpent bracelet by Cartier is representative of the jewelry collected by the Wolcott Blairs.
The burglary created a great shopping opportunity to replace the lost pieces, which the Blairs continued to do during the following years from such distinguished sources as Tiffany & Co., Buccellati, Cartier, René Boivin and Van Cleef & Arpels.
A beryl, sapphire and gold cuff bracelet, by Buccellati, was a later acquisition.
When Wolcott and Ellen’s only child, Watson Keep Blair, died at 87 on November 26, 2013, their property was put in the capable hands of Christie’s, which issued information about the jewels that was both discreet and comprehensive.
Watson Keep Blair as a young man.
According to Christie’s, the Wolcott Blairs kept “meticulous records,” which reveal that like other well-known collectors of the period, including the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Fellowes and Mona von Bismarck, “took elements from their existing pieces and refashioned them with new additions to create notable pieces that captured the mood of the period and yet were entirely unique.”
An example is the Art Deco “multi-gem and diamond elephant brooch, by Boivin,” which was fashioned from a Tutti Frutti bracelet Ellen had ordered from Cartier in 1932. By the end of the decade the “Tutti Frutti motif” was no longer in fashion as a bracelet, thus Ellen took it to René Boivin, where it was reworked as a ruby, emerald and diamond elephant brooch, which according to Christie’s, was “a brilliant example of Mrs. Blair’s awareness of trends and adaptability of style.”
Christie’s auction literature continues with, “Mrs. Blair was recognized as a style icon and socialite, but her sense of style went beyond simply wearing a piece of jewelry. In a sketch from Vogue 1947, Mrs. Blair is depicted wearing the elephant brooch at her collar.”
René Bouché / Vogue, July 1947 © Condé Nast
Christie’s provided a copy of a two-page receipt from René Boivin, with Ellen’s handwritten notations on it.
Also supplied by the auction house is detective work regarding how the Blairs assembled a unique gold and diamond timepiece.
“In the mid-1950s, an insurance listing and handwritten inventory from the family archives reveal that the Blairs had also worked with the Boivin workshop to create a gold and diamond watch bracelet. We can speculate that the watch bracelet was created from an antique gold bracelet that was acquired abroad and was married with a Cartier watch face . . . The two pieces come together to create a chic watch bracelet, unique and fashionable.”
With these bits of detailing the enviable luxe of the Blair jewelry collection, Classic Chicago completes its 11-part series covering two entwined historic families, the Bowens and the Blairs, which launched last August. Our progression began in 1835—two years before Chicago’s incorporation as a city—with what was to be a brief visit to the village by a government courier, Edward H. Hadduck, who would be grandfather of Louise de Koven Bowen. Four segments later, we picked up with:
“While Louise Bowen’s grandfather, Edward Hadduck, was heading west in his prairie schooner from Detroit to Chicago—bride beside him, rifle across her knees—Blandford, Massachusetts native Chauncey Buckley Blair rode alone on horseback, quite likely nearby . . .”
The set of 11 articles on The Bowens and The Blairs may be found at
Robert F. Carl