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RARE EVENT: Well-heeled guests wanting to playact a Gilded Age fantasy had all the props at hand during Newport, R.I.’s Tiffany Ball. There was, first of all, the setting: The Breakers, the towering Renaissance-style palace built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II to show up the other Bellevue Avenue robber barons. Then there was the host: Gladys Szapary, the Vanderbilts’ youngest daughter who inherited the house in 1934 and opened it, fully furnished, to the public through the Preservation Society of Newport County starting in 1948. She greeted guests at the door flanked by a line of waiters holding silver trays of Champagne. Szapary had even convinced her designer cousin Gloria Vanderbilt to lend the family’s century-old Tiffany & Co. china, sterling flatware and crystal for the evening.
“It was a wonderful gesture, done brilliantly,” said Tiffany & Co. group director Peter Engelhart, who oversees the brand’s Rhode Island and Connecticut operations.
This was the third Tiffany Ball, but the first in more than 40 years. At the inaugural gala in 1957, Newport patron Mary Whitehouse wore the 128-carat yellow Tiffany diamond, one of only two women to ever wear it (the other was Audrey Hepburn in a publicity shoot for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”) Although the famous diamond remained at Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship this time around, plenty was hauled out of safety deposit boxes. Co-chair Mary Van Pelt wore Paloma Picasso pearls and a diamond-and-ruby bracelet and ring her husband’s grandmother wore to the first Tiffany Ball in 1957.
The event raised $300,000 for the Preservation Society, which manages 11 properties open to the public, including seven of Newport’s most opulent mansions.