What do crocodiles, Diego Rivera, Balenciaga Couture, race horses, Placido Domingo, “Ashoka Diamond”, Mexican Cinema, Yaqui Indians, and Cartier have in common?
Maria Felix aka La Dona.
Maria Felix was born one of twelve children to Bernardo Felix of Yaqui descent and Josefina Guerna of Spanish lineage. Maria de los Angeles Felix Guerna became a strikingly beautiful woman with a sharp, gorgeous face that begged to be filmed. With a wild and flamboyant personality, she was a natural dancer and entertainer. Her long dark waves of hair fell onto her seductively curved frame, creating a powerful presence. Jean Cocteau wrote during a filming that “her undressing was planned and executed like a house moving”. Mexico’s most famous melodist Agustin Lara wrote the seductive “Maria Bonita” for his once wife, a piece still popular today in the recordings of Placido Domingo.
The 1940’s were great years for both Maria Felix and Mexico. Mexico attained world recognition in the areas of architecture, literature and cinema. Director Fernando Palacios was struck by her beauty and approached Maria Felix on the streets of Mexico City where she was working as a typist. Maria was propelled in to stardom and starred in her first film “El Penon de las Animas”, cast with the most famous Mexican male actor of the time, Jorge Negrete. The film was a huge success and showcased Maria Felix’s exotic beauty and talent, though she had never been trained in acting. Her third film gave Maria her now famous nickname “La Dona”, after playing the character Dona Barbara, a title bestowed by her country, in its attention to this new captivating star. The entire Mexican nation celebrated her marriage in 1952 to her costar Jorge Negrete. This pairing of Mexico’s cinematic stars ended tragically however, with Jorge’s death in 1953.
In Argentina, Maria starred in the film “ Le Calvaire d’une courtisane” under the direction of Luis Cesar Amadori. She lived wildly and become a close friend of Evita Peron. Ever evolving and glamorous, the pull of Europe brought her to Spain and France, where Maria worked with the great European directors Jean Renoir and Luis Bunuel and posed for numerous magazines.
Maria married Alex Berger in 1956 and took up permanent residence in the home of haute couture and the Le Maison de Cartier. In Paris Maria and Alex lived in great luxury, hosting candlelit dinners with flattering friends, some of them the most powerful people of the world; King Farouk of Egypt, Ali Khan, Baron Guy de Rothschild. Maria attended art openings, fashion shows and her beloved horse races with her presence. She could be seen in Balenciaga, Hermes and Dior Couture and of course lots of Cartier jewels. The “Ashoka Diamond”, a 41.37 carat D flawless, was one of Maria’s favorites. She was often photographed in her Cartier red coral and black enameled diamond flower necklace smoking her long cigarettes.
Maria Felix was famous for adoring unusual pets. According to a Cartier legend, Maria brought a bowl of her pet crocodiles into the Cartier Boutique in Paris on the rue de la Paix and requested a necklace designed to resemble her animals. The baby crocs sat on the jeweler’s workbench and gave inspiration to the “Crocodile Necklace” designed by Gabriel Raton, to exact proportions of course. The two jeweled crocodiles wrap around the neck in a heavy 524.9 grams of gold. One is paved with 1,060 deep green emeralds and ruby eyes and the other with 1,023 yellow diamonds and emerald green eyes. The Crocodile Necklace is on display as part of the “Art of Cartier Collection” in Paris.
Many artists painted Maria’s exotic look. The work of surrealist painters Fini, Carrington and Lepri rendered her likeness alongside her vast collection of antiques, tapestries, porcelain and silver which reflected her style. A romantic adventure with Diego Rivera and a close friendship with Frida Kahlo in 1949 resulted in many sketches and paintings of her portrayed in wildly colorful exotic flowers and animals. Diego created one of the most famous portraits titled “Muy Malo.” Maria’s beauty is portrayed in transparent lace.
In 2006,The House of Cartier launched the La Dona collection in honor of Maria Felix with actress Salma Hayek modeling the watch for the premiere. The La Dona de Cartier is inspired by Maria Felix, known for her fiery personality and eccentric taste. In homage to the now famous crocodile necklace, the curves of the La Dona resemble her favored reptilian pets. The dial is a tapered asymmetrical shape and the bracelet has bold gold curved links that are inspired by the scales and movement of a crocodile. The jewelry and accessory collection are designed with a similar inspiration.
Last year I posted a history about the exotic Mexican actress Maria Felix and to my surprise I started getting the most interesting comments from around the world from her fan club members! Her fans are very informative and maintain a website dedicated just to Maria Felix, including a youtube video. There are many stories about her famous crocodile necklace,which is not surprising since she is known for her flamboyant personality on and off screen.
In 1968 Maria Felix also commissioned Cartier Paris to create a snake necklace, with the dimensions of a live snake. The perfect articulation gives the platinum snake an eerily feel of being real, the platinum and white gold links are all hinged separately and not visible. Covered in 178.21 carats of diamonds, a totalof 2,473, with tapered elongated diamonds set into the perfectly shaped head, the underside is beautifully enameled in a colorful grid pattern. The diamond snake necklace is extraordinary not only in design but in the craftsmanship as well.
Her leaf shaped emerald ear clips seem almost like any other earrings; however, on closer inspection you will notice that each gold prong holding the emeralds in place are enameled to the exact green color of the emeralds– making the leaf look very realistic. Cartier’s creativity is simple and magnificent. Maria Felix wore these green clips with thecrocodile necklace.
Also on display is the carved coral flower necklace. The flowers are bell shaped similar to the ‘lily of the valley’ or a ‘fuchsia’ with diamonds, pearls, onyx and black enameling. It’s delicate and bold in design, a Cartier signature.
Maria Felix & her Cartier Jewelry
This post is an addendum to my previous post about Maria Felix and Cartier La Dona watch. In the post she is shown wearing the famous “Crocodile Necklace” that Cartier designed for her. The emerald leaf earrings shown below are the earrings that she wore with the neclace. The incredible coral necklace was also one of her favorite jewels so I had to include a photo of it, the design is so creative and chic timeless! As mentioned by Angelo –my incredibly informative blog commentator– this coral necklace is worn by Suzanne Tennenbaum in her “Jeweled Garden” book in the dust cover photo.
This pair of emerald leaf earrings was worn by Maria Felix with her famous crocodile necklace. Originally designed with diamonds on the ridge and stem of the leaves in 1967 Maria Felix then requested Cartier to replace the diamonds with emeralds in 1976. The earrings went to auction in 1991 as part of her estate and they were purchased by Doris Duke.
One of Maria’s favorite necklaces that she was often seen wearing was designed in 1955 by Maison de Cartier Paris. Carved angel skin coral bellflowers set in platinum with emerad, onyx and white coral beads dangles in clusters from the flowers. The flowers drops on a strand of matching coral beads with clasps made of onyx and diamonds.
Janet Deleuse, All Rights Reserved,
Photos from “Jeweled Garden” by Suzanne Tennenbaum & Janet Zapata
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The La Dona watch, like the woman, comes in many varying and exciting styles. The watches are available in 18k yellow or white gold, with or without diamonds, as well as a variety of beautiful fuchsia and red straps.
For more information about the woman who was passionate about life and jewels, “Todas Sus Guerras” is a documentary produced in 2003 about Maria Felix as a compilation of her films throughout her successful career.