From Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1950) to Estella in Cruella (2021), The Walt Disney Company has brought to life some of the most memorable and unique characters in entertainment history. With over 300 original live-action films produced since 1950, allowing for each of the thousands of characters to remain an individual can be a challenge. Luckily, the talented filmmakers and artisans tasked with this responsibility have been able to do just that, effortlessly individualizing each character so that it may live within the story and embark on its own journey through the audience’s imagination.
Over the years, the Walt Disney Archives has aimed to collect and preserve important pieces of jewelry and accessories from as many of the company’s iconic productions as possible. Today you will have the opportunity to see some of our favorite pieces from the history of The Walt Disney Company. We are thrilled to welcome you to All That Glitters: The Crown Jewels of the Walt Disney Archives.
All That Glitters: The Crown Jewels of the Walt Disney Archives is curated by the Walt Disney Archives in conjunction with the Bowers Museum.
Jewelry Always Fits
Although much of a film’s story is conveyed through screenwriting, directing or cinematography, for the characters, the clothes and accessories worn inform the audience of who they are well before the first line is spoken. Costume designers have long played a crucial role in the filmmaking process for that very reason. The color, shape and flow of a costume can dictate much about the character’s path through the world of the film that he or she exists in, but often, it is the smaller, sometimes overlooked elements of a costume that truly define the strength of a hero or the cunning of a villain.
The accessories of a costume allow the audience to immediately identify who this character is and their purpose in the context of the story. A king’s crown, a bride’s ring, a pirate’s necklace, and a banker’s watch are all examples of elements that give the audience a glimpse into the character’s personality and role.
A costume designer’s work isn’t just about creating a beautiful dress or selecting the perfect garment. They must use their in-depth understanding of the character to examine every minute detail of the costume in order to enhance the personality. Along with clothing, costume jewelry and accessories play a tremendous part in bringing a character to life. Designers work with craftsmen, artisans, and stylists to ensure each individual piece is just right.
Reflections of History:
The Bowers Jewelry Collection and Disney Costume Jewelry
What is jewelry…? What are accessories…? What is “Costume Jewelry”…?
Jewelry has been an important design element of wardrobes from around the world and throughout time. Usually worn as an ornamental adornment to enhance one’s attire, accessories are an object or set of objects that are added to make the attire more attractive or useful.
Costume jewelry pieces serve the same purpose as the various accessories we see in everyday life, with one exception, they are only meant to look authentic. The reality is that most costume jewelry pieces are made from materials far less expensive than the precious stones and metals they are representing. Although a diamond on screen may look like a priceless and rare diamond, it is very likely nothing more than plastic and glitter.
Although the pieces used onscreen may be only “costume jewelry” they are often modeled after historic pieces that reflect a culture, social status or specific time period of a film or character. Here we take a special look at some real jewelry pieces from the collections of the Bowers Museum side by side with some faux film counterparts.
Madame Helena Modjeska (1840-1909)
Though Modjeska’s acting never graced the silver screen, the Polish thespian was among the most famous Shakespearean stage actors in the United States around the end of the 19th century. Starring in roles from Cleopatra to Lady Macbeth, she wore a great many pieces of jewelry and adornment over her 46-year career. Just as they do in Hollywood productions, costume designers for Modjeska’s plays looked to history to create seemingly authentic outfits for Modjeska to wear onstage. This explains how the costume jewelry she wore over 100 years ago might bear resemblance to pieces made within the last couple decades.
"I Love Thee” Ring
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Originally created for the close-up shot of “I love thee” engraved on the inner band, this larger-than-life ring never actually appeared on screen in Romeo + Juliet (1996). Instead, the production team accomplished the same end result using the normal sized prop ring. The plus sign in the title and on the ring is no coincidence. A lot of importance is put on the development of the graphic language within a Baz Luhrmann film, and particularly the titles of the movies. With Romeo + Juliet or “R+J” Mr. Luhrmann had the double idea of developing the title to be incorporated into the natural branding of the ring seen in this pre-production piece.
Dick Tracy Radio Watches
Dick Tracy (1990)
For a prop as unforgettable as Dick Tracy’s wrist watch radio, careful consideration goes into its creation. When translating the accessory from the comic book page to the big screen, production had to first create a prototype to mock-up the overall aesthetic. Once the design was agreed upon, additional versions were created, including a lightweight watch used for stunts, and a detailed version worn by director and lead actor Warren Beatty.
White Witch Ice Crowns
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Perhaps the signature piece of Jadis, the White Witch’s costume is the iconic ice crown. Designed by costume designer Isis Mussenden in collaboration with artist Hope Atherton, the crown of icicles, which appears to grow directly from the icy antagonist’s head, represents her magical wintry powers. The designers and artists developed a series of crowns to show the melt progression as the story unfolds, shrinking as Jadis’ power weakens.
Jewelry Informs Character
A character’s development does not start and stop with an actor’s portrayal. As viewers, we engage with characters when all elements align—script, actors, director, sets, props, and costumes—immersing us into the story.
Every detail of a costume is a precise decision; appearance, time period, size, proportion, material, color, and patina are all taken into consideration to ensure each piece will add to character development rather than detract. From an accurate wristwatch or subtle necklace, to a set of large earrings once fashionable in a specific time period, all of these choices must be considered. These are the curatorial decisions that bring to life the characters that we love and are showcased here.
In some instances, a piece of jewelry becomes a character itself. The necklaces seen here not only served as adornments on screen, but were built into the story as pivotal plot points. Whether it is the cursed Aztec gold medallion from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) or the Edwardian-style pendant that convinces Cruella she must seek her revenge, these meaningful and stunning pieces have provided drive and purpose, while also bringing beauty to the silver screen. The seventeen necklaces and pendants seen here are just a few of the memorable ornamentations of our favorite cinematic moments.
“Heart of the Ocean”
Worn by Kate Winslet
Courtesy of Lightstorm Entertainment
A fictional pendant—but one of legend nonetheless—in the award-winning film, Titanic, “The Heart of the Ocean” was purportedly worn by King Louis XVI and was a gift given to the film’s main character, Rose DeWitt Bukater, a young first-class passenger on the famed and ill-fated cruise liner Titanic. The design for this beautiful necklace was inspired by one of the largest blue diamonds in the world, the 45 carat Hope Diamond.
Baroness von Hellman
Worn by Emma Thompson
“That necklace is the reason I’m dead.” This statement made by Estella in the opening sequence of 2021’s Cruella, sets the expectation that this pendant will help to guide the plot. The beautiful opal-like pendant quickly becomes a driving force of the plot, as Cruella seeks her revenge on the villain of the story. This beautiful piece of costume jewelry is a perfect example of exactly how pivotal one piece of jewelry or accessory can be.
Prized Pieces from Beyond the Screen
The Walt Disney Archives celebrates more than just examples of accessories that have graced the silver screen. It is also home to many pieces of historical merchandise, awards, and even gifts presented to the company to honor the deep relationships forged with communities from around the world. Here we will take a look “behind the magic” at some of the company’s favorite gilded—and surprising!—treasures.
Watches Through the Decades
Not all costume jewelry and accessories are unique and created for the screen but don’t be fooled—an incredible amount of time and thought goes into scouring the real world for the perfect piece to complete a character’s look. This is particularly true when it comes to the selection of time pieces. Here we will take a look at classic pocket watches, extravagant Rolexes, and futuristic pre-smartwatch multifunction wristwear, all in chronological order.
Crowns and Tiaras
Nothing accentuates nobility like a properly worn crown or tiara. When we imagine royal characters (and in some cases… not so royal) from classic Disney films, we often picture them in one of these iconic pieces of headwear. Crafted with care and thought, these accessories have been designed and assembled with the designated character’s regality in mind. Whether constructed of metal and gemstones, or fitting into a film’s budget with the use of plastics and imitation pearls, these pieces have enhanced some of the most memorable moments on film.
Reflections of Reality
The most fantastical stories don’t always come from completely fictional origins, in fact, some come from the retelling of true stories. When recreating real-life people or events, costume designers work much like an archivist or researcher does, studying fine details of historical characters to replicate their fashion or style with precise accuracy.
Every Little Detail
When first introduced to a character, we often overlook the earring worn by the pirate, or the wedding band on the finger of the film’s lead, and what often goes unnoticed is precisely what matters most. The intricate work of selecting these minute adornments creates a seamless character in the viewer’s mind, perhaps even subconsciously. While we usually see a character within the bigger picture, there are often incredible details to be enjoyed when we take a closer look.
Not yet optimized for desktop.
Adjust your screen or switch devices