It’s New York, 1904, inside a box at the still relatively new Metropolitan Opera and Mrs. Astor is there. Yes, loyal viewers of The Gilded Age, and sorry for the spoiler, but eventually she gave in. The battle between the old money of The Academy of Music and the new moneyed Metropolitan Opera chronicled in this season’s Gilded Age reached a peak in 1883 at the opening of the Met, a shiny new building at 1411 Broadway that had, as a selling point, 122 opera boxes.
All the better to show off your jewels, my dear.
On that night in 1904, display them she did. Mrs. Astor, according to an article covering the opera opening night in The Washington Post, wore a white gown accented with black satin ribbons, she had a tiara on, and a “girdle of diamonds” and a necklace.
At the center of it all? A large diamond bow brooch finished with two long tassels. Keen observers would remark that it was an historic jewel, acquired at the infamous auction of the French Crown Jewels in 1887 and the former property of the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III and the last Empress of France. They might also insist on using the correct terminology.
This was no brooch, my friends. That there was what we call a stomacher. Had Mrs. Astor had that level of jewelry armor in 1883, might the Academy of Music still stand? A question to which we will never have the answer. But here is what we know.