Way back in the day, I did a ton of posts about famous nineteenth-century courtesans. Well, I’ve discovered another book with even more stories, called The Book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of Their Virtues (2001) by Susan Griffin.
Griffin discusses the role that jewels played in the life of a courtesan, serving not only as an external marker of success (you could rate how good a courtesan was at her job by the jewel collection she was able to amass), but also as a sound investment for future retirement.
And considering that, as a courtesan, the price you could ask of your clients was largely derived by how famous you were (celebrity courtesans were the ultimate luxury good for wealthy men), you most definitely wanted to wear a ton of your jewels out in public and get some free advertising.
At a public event the two women were attending, Otero made a grand entrance absolutely dripping in jewels “necklaces, bracelets, earrings, anklets, layered and piled in a glittering display of astonishing abundance” (3). She more or less wore every jewel she owned, in a dazzling display of her own value.
Not long thereafter, Liane de Pougy made her grand entrance, wearing only one very expensive, elegant diamond necklace. She showed that of the two of them, she was the more stylishly restrained and chic.
HOWEVER, lest it be thought that she could not earn any grander jewels than what she was wearing, she entered the party with her maid in attendance. The maid followed her around the whole night, carrying an absolute mountain of expensive jewelry on a red velvet pillow. As long as everyone knew exactly what sort of jewelry collection she had and could draw appropriate comparisons between her and the Belle Otero, Liane de Pougy could dress like a (relatively) normal person, instead of gussying herself up like a damn fool.