The Growing Jewel Gown

The history of another of DSB’s gowns sold for charity at Christie’s.

Courtesy of our Gowns Guru, Ian.


The Black Velvet ‘Jewel’ Gown

(Lot 12 Christie’s picture page 38, also in this week’s 1982 tour brochure pictures. Also on various Album covers)


This stunner was designed by Doug Darnell in 1957.


It was first worn by Dame Shirley that year as a strapless sheath gown.


This gown was a big favourite of DSB and worn many times over the years.



It was remodelled in the 1980’s. Dame Shirley wore it in 1985 at Carnegie Hall at the first concert she gave after the death of her daughter, Samantha. It had been remodeled with straps and a trailing skirt.


DSB wore this gown many more times in the 80’s, for her Live at Her Majesty’s show in 1984 and on her U.K. tour in 1988.

We fans used to joke that the diamonte jewel on the hip of the dress kept getting larger, which indeed it has over the years, since the first picture in 1957!

It’s at the Swarovski museum in Austria with the Diamond Dress.


Here is the description and notes from the Christie’s catalogue:

A dramatic stage gown by Douglas Darnell, the black velvet fitted bodice and bias cut skirt with low-cut back, the thin shoulder straps studded with Swarovski aurora borealis crystals, the dress embellished at the left hip with a stunning three-dimensional stylised orchid of Swarovski aurora borealis crystals of varying sizes, each petal with pendant crystals, the flowing train and lower skirt lined in silver silk tissue.

Weight: approx. 2kg.

This gown is one of Dame Shirley’s favourites, and has been worn by her on numerous occasions over the years. Consequently, Darnell has had to remodel the gown several times, and in its present incarnation it differs in appearance from the earlier photographs illustrated.

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One of the photographs shows Dame Shirley wearing an early version of this gown on stage in 1957 whilst performing her first hit The Banana Boat Song.


The other shows Dame Shirley wearing the gown on stage at Harrogate during her U.K. Tour, April-May, 1988.

It is also illustrated on the covers of the 1970 Philips album Spotlight On, and the 1960s Columbia Records album Shirley Bassey Favourites.

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Dame Shirley has great affection for this gown and has particularly poignant memories of wearing it on stage as revealed in conversation with Douglas Darnell:

DSB: This [gown] I wore when my daughter died… [1985] …I went to Carnegie Hall and I walked on stage in that…and the audience stood up [applauding] for 5 minutes…

DD: I told you they would…I said just wear black, and that’s it – apart from the chandelier on the hip!

DSB: When I wore that gown I felt I had to go the doctor and have it lanced! [laughs] …something was growing on my hip [more laughter] …It is stunning

DD: This dress originally had a straight skirt. I put a new skirt on it …and changed the bodice

Darnell also told us that he altered and enlarged the elaborate orchid embellishment keeping the original version at its core.


Photographs courtesy of London Features, Columbia Records and Dave Spencer.

Final Price




And finally, from my eyewitness report on the auction: (by Peggy)

“It grew out of my hip and I had to go to the doctors to get it removed. It started as a tiny Swarovski diamond and just – grew. I ran out of medicine – drugs – drugs – drugs.” Shirley showed a tremendous sense of humour all evening, making little quips from her front row seat. She often had the auctioneer and bidders in stitches.


Images displayed with kind permission of Christie’s Images Ltd. © 2002