LONDON (Reuters) - Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, one of the leading sex symbols of the 1950s and 1960s, is selling some of her diamond jewelry to raise money for stem cell research, saying now is the time to give back for the fortunate life she has had.
After a humble, rural upbringing, Lollobrigida played opposite Hollywood stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Frank Sinatra.
As her career took off in France, Italy and Hollywood, Lollobrigida said she started to collect jewels from Bulgari, always buying them herself and enjoying the purchasing power of her hard work.
Now 85 and having largely left acting in the 1980s for photojournalism, humanitarian work and sculpting, Lollobrigida said it was time to put the jewelry to good use.
Some 22 jewels from her collection will be auctioned by Sotheby's in Geneva on May 14 after going on display in London, New York and Rome.
Lollobrigida said she will donate the proceeds to a fund to set up a hospital for stem cell research.
"This will not be the end of the jewelry but it will be something that does good, helping a cause that is very important to me," she told Reuters in a phone interview from Rome. "I want to leave a souvenir of my life."
The pieces include a pair of pearl and diamond pendant earrings made in 1964 that are expected to sell for up to $1 million, a 19.03 carat diamond ring of around the same price mark and a 1954 diamond necklace/bracelet combination worth up to $500,000.
She is also selling a pair of emerald and diamond ear clips that she was photographed wearing one evening in 1965 with artist Salvador Dali that are expected to reach up to $250,000.
Lollobrigida, who was a student at Rome's Academy of Fine Art before being spotted in a beauty contest by Italian film director Vittorio de Sica, said she now focuses her time on sculpture so has little need for jewelry.
In the past 10 years she has exhibited her work in Moscow, Paris and Venice.
She said art was always her dream career but she ended up in acting by chance, appearing in movies such as "The World's Most Beautiful Woman," "Solomon and Sheba" and "Come September."
"Acting was not my desire but at the end of things it was destiny that I did this," she said.
"It was a very interesting experience and without the money I could not do what I like in sculpture. To do something in life, not to gain but only to enjoy life, that is the richness in life. I am lucky I can do that."
Lollobrigida, who was married once and has a son, was caught up in a bizarre 2010 marriage plot tied to her estate that is still being fought over in European courts.
She filed a complaint with police in Rome over ex-boyfriend Javier Rigau y Rafols, 51, a Spanish businessman, who insisted he had legitimately married her even though she says she was not present at the ceremony in November 2010.
"There was no marriage and it was a very ugly story. Fortunately there will be a good ending, a surprise ending," said Lollobrigida, giving little away. "I am very glad that this is nearly all over."
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman)