On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon, and the world was watching. The impact of this moment cannot be overstated. It was the height of scientific and American achievement, and 600 million people sat in awe in front of their televisions watching.
Upon the mission’s return, many of those people wanted to express their appreciation, but how could they commemorate this incredible achievement properly? One jewelry firm managed to create a work of wearable art for Neil Armstrong that did just that. Read on to learn how a simple, beautiful brooch came to represent the world’s gratitude toward the Apollo 11 lunar mission.
On the Moon
On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from Kennedy Space Center with Commander Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins on board. Once in the moon’s orbit, Aldrin and Armstrong moved to the lunar vessel Eagle and landed on the lunar surface, while Collins stayed behind to man the spacecraft. John F. Kennedy’s promise of putting a man on the moon before the decade was out had been fulfilled, and the “Space Race” was effectively over.
Most know that the Apollo 11 crew left behind an American flag on the moon’s surface; they also left a plaque engraved with the message, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July, 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all of mankind.” It bore the signatures of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and President Richard Nixon. This phrase would become the theme of the world tour the crew would embark on after their return. During their tour, they presented replicas of this plaque as gifts to heads of state - our brooch would also make many appearances.
The Lunar Brooch
In 1896, a young newlywed couple named Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef started a jewelry house that would eventually become one of the most successful and innovative of all time - Van Cleef & Arpels. The company was renowned for creating especially intriguing and beautiful pieces in the mid-20th century and remains at the head of luxury jewelry creations today. Over the decades, Van Cleef & Arpels has served a diversity of elite clientele, from the Duchess of Windsor to Grace Kelly to Farah Pahlavi, the Empress Consort of Iran.
After the success of the moon landing, Van Cleef & Arpels designed a stunning custom brooch of textured 18K yellow gold that mimicked the lunar surface, complete with its craters and rocky terrain. An inset diamond represents the landing site of the Eagle in the Sea of Tranquility, and five rubies represent where the astronauts explored. Just four of these pins were made - each presented to the three Apollo crew members and John F. Kennedy’s mother, Rose Kennedy. The one on offer at M.S. Rau belongs to the Armstrongs, and it bears the engraving, “Neil Armstrong / Sunday, July 20, 1969 / Van Cleef & Arpels.” This brooch remained an important keepsake in the Armstrong family for many years before we acquired it. As the first person to walk on the moon, Armstrong is the most iconic member of the Apollo mission, so this piece is truly one of a kind.
The brooch was a thoughtful and meaningful gift to the crew, but it took on greater meaning. Armstrong gifted the pin to his wife, Janet, who subsequently wore it during their 38-day “Giant Leap” Goodwill Tour, and it served as a symbol of goodwill for all to see.
The "Giant Leap" Goodwill Tour
Upon their return to Earth on July 24, 1969, the crew was in quarantine protocol for 21 days. Once released, they would embark on another long journey; this time across the Earth’s surface. The tour’s purpose was to demonstrate America’s willingness to share what we had learned on the moon with the world and encourage an exchange of ideas.
On September 29, 1969, a presidential aircraft flew from Andrews Air Force Base to the Johnson Space Center to pick up the three astronauts and their wives. Thus began their whirlwind tour visiting 24 countries over the course of only 38 days. Their ambitious itinerary was as follows:
Departed Washington DC 09/29/69
Mexico City, Mexico 09/29-30/69
Bogota, Columbia 09/30-10/01/69
Buenos Aires, Argentina 10/01-02/69
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 10/02-04/69
Las Palmas, Canary Islands 10/04-06/69
Madrid, Spain 10/06-08/69
Paris, France 10/08-09/69
Amsterdam, Netherlands 10/09/69
Brussels, Belgium 10/09-10/69
Oslo, Norway 10/10-12/69
Bonn, Germany 10/12/69
West Berlin, Germany 10/12-14/69
London, England 10/14-15/69
Rome, Italy 10/15-18/69
The Vatican 10/16/69
Belgrade, Yugoslavia 10/18-20/69
Ankara, Turkey 10/20-22/69
Kinshasa, Zaire 10/22-24/69
Bombay, India 10/24-25/69
Dacca, Bangladesh 10/25-26/69
Bangkok, Thailand 10/26-28/69
Tehran, Iran 10/28-31/69
Perth, Australia 10/31/69
Sydney, Australia 10/31-11/02/69
Agana, Guam 11/02-03/69
Seoul, South Korea 11/03-04/69
Tokyo, Japan 11/04-05/69
Elmendorf AFB Alaska 11/05/69
Arrived Washington DC 11/05/69
While American astronauts had made official international visits before, this was the first time there had been an organized world tour for a space crew. Enthusiastic crowds swarmed the group everywhere they went. In some cities, a national holiday was declared on the day of their arrival. At least 100 million people saw the crew, and they met with world leaders, dignitaries, celebrities, and even met the Pope and Queen Elizabeth II. In fact, in the photo below you can see Janet Armstrong wearing the brooch in the Queen’s presence.
They attended civic events, news conferences, ceremonies and receptions. Armstrong’s secretary during the trip, Geneva B. Barnes, said of their travels, “I think we were sort of overwhelmed and I don't really think we knew what was in store for us. There were large crowds everywhere we stopped. There was a lot of interest.” There was so much interest, in fact, that Barnes had to give up on keeping up with all of the correspondence with individuals Neil and Janet Armstrong met along the way.
The astronauts had suddenly been propelled into the spotlight and were now serving as American ambassadors and diplomats. Although they were astronauts and not politicians or public speakers, the men were called upon in nearly every city to make speeches or remarks. The trip and its duties were a great responsibility for the group, and although they often felt uncomfortable during these appearances, they took their new roles seriously. For example, while in Berlin, accompanied by the mayor and the U.S. ambassador, they visited the Berlin Wall. They gave remarks mentioning recent violence at the site and signed the visitor’s book during their short time there. All the while, they were described as being humble and grateful, even as they were being honored with medals and keys to cities.
The trip’s purpose was not as a victory lap, but to express America’s gratitude and goodwill. They spent their time acknowledging other countries' contributions to the lunar landing and emphasized the message they left on the moon’s surface, that the landing was “for all of mankind.” Shortly after the trip had concluded, Henry Kissinger called it one of the nation’s most “effective policy vehicles.” There was no denying the link between space travel and powerful American diplomacy.
Armstrong’s moonwalk lasted approximately three hours. The entire mission lasted for 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds. The “Great Leap” Goodwill Tour lasted for 38 days. Their legacies are enduring. This brooch reminds us of not only this great American achievement, but also of the reason behind it - to make our world a little smaller and to always seek out and share knowledge.
To learn more about the Neil Armstrong Lunar Brooch, click here.
NASA. Accessed July 9, 2019. https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4223/ch10.htm?utm_source=FBPAGE&utm_medium=NASA History&utm_campaign=NASASocial&linkId=57901139.
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Linn, Priscilla. "The Journey After "One Giant Leap for Mankind"." U.S. Department of State. July 20, 2009. Accessed July 9, 2019. http://2007-2017-blogs.state.gov/stories/2009/07/20/journey-after-one-giant-leap-mankind.html.
Loff, Sarah. "Apollo Image Gallery." NASA. April 08, 2019. Accessed July 9, 2019. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/images.html.
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