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The year's biggest rock tour

Millions of dollars worth of jewels that belonged to tobacco heir Doris Duke are being shown around the world before they are auctioned for charity.

By Associated Press
Published May 3, 2004

ROME - If diamonds are a girl's best friend, then late tobacco heir Doris Duke had plenty of pals.

An exhibit of her jewels is on view at the Rome branch of Christie's auction house, part of a tour of the billionaire's private jewelry collection before it is sold at Christie's in New York on June 2. Proceeds from the sale will go to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which supports performing arts, wildlife conservation, medical research and the prevention of child abuse.

The prize catch of the 111-piece collection, titled "Magnificent Jewels," is a highly transparent 19.72 carat rectangular-cut Tiffany diamond ring. The value of the piece, which Duke inherited from her mother, Nanaline, is estimated at between $800,000 and $1.2-million.

Another family heirloom is the "Belle Epoque" diamond and pearl pendant necklace by Cartier, fashioned out of diamonds supplied by Duke's father, James B. Duke. The original invoice bears the date Dec. 24, 1908, possibly a Christmas gift for his wife.

The collection also includes many items commissioned by Doris Duke, who inherited a large part of the family fortune when her father died in 1925, when she was 12.

Through her many travels, Duke gained a special love for Indian art. Using the precious stones she brought back from abroad, she worked with such jewelers as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as up-and-coming designers such as Fulco di Verdura and David Webb, to create personalized jewelry.

The Rome stop has special meaning in the life of the very rich but restless heir. Duke met her second husband, Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, while working in Rome as a reporter in the late 1940s. Rubirosa's wedding gift, a jewel-encrusted powder box, is part of the exhibit.

Although the marriage lasted only a year, it is said that the two remained good friends and that Duke kept a picture of him in her bedroom, making him the only male companion to earn such an honor.

Duke died in 1993, leaving most of her wealth to the foundation that bears her name. The foundation also cares for her lavish homes in Hawaii, New Jersey and Newport, R.I.

The jewelry collection has been on view in Hong Kong and will make stops in London, Paris and Geneva, as well as Palm Beach and Beverly Hills, Calif., before the sale in New York.

[Last modified May 3, 2004, 01:05:16]

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