Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Elizabeth Taylor's $30m of gems up for auction
There was jewellery for the eight wedding days, the numerous film premieres, the table tennis victories and of course Tuesdays. Who among us does not get an 'it's Tuesday and I love you' gift?
The woman who certainly did was Elizabeth Taylor and it helped her build up one of the most remarkable and dazzling private collections of jewellery ever created.
Following her death in March aged 79, Christie's announced on Wednesday it is to sell nearly 300 of the star's jewels over two sessions in New York. There will be diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies and sapphires; rings, earrings, necklaces, brooches, tiaras and more in a sale expected to make over $30m (£19m).
The chairman and president of Christie's America, Marc Porter, said the sale promised "to captivate the auction world". He added: "This is without a doubt the greatest private collection of jewellery assembled in one place."
Taylor's obsession with jewellery is well-chronicled. Her twice-husband Richard Burton said: "I introduced Liz to beer, and she introduced me to Bulgari."
If your jaw would ever drop at a piece of jewellery then it would drop at some of the gifts from Burton, not least "the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond", a 33.19 carat monster of a diamond ring that she cheerfully wore most days after being given it in 1968.
Taylor once said: "My ring gives me the strangest feeling for beauty. With its sparks of red and white and blue and purple, and on and on, really, it sort of hums with its own beatific life."
Its estimate may be a tad beyond most means – $2.5m to $3.5m.
Burton was also responsible for "It's a beautiful day, I love you" gifts and an "It's Tuesday, I love you" present of a Bulgari emerald suite – necklace pendant, ring, bracelet, earrings – collected over the course of many trips to the Bulgari boutique on Rome's Via Condotti while they were filming Cleopatra. He is alleged to have claimed "the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari".
Then there is his 1968 Christmas present to her which she almost missed because Burton had buried it so deep in her Christmas stocking. The perfect red ruby ring is estimated at $1m to $1.5m.
Two years later Burton and Taylor were relaxing at their luxury chalet in Gstaad playing ping pong. A challenge was set: if Taylor could take 10 points off him he would get her a diamond, and of course she did. The result was three very small diamond rings known as the ping pong diamonds, which may be more in some people's price range at $5,000 to $7,000.
Another Burton gift is a necklace – La Pérégrina – which contains one of the most important pearls there is, one discovered in the early 1500s in the Gulf of Panama which Philip II of Spain gave as a wedding gift to his wife Mary Tudor.
Of course Taylor went through her husbands, and there are gifts in the sale from others, including husband number three Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash a year after their marriage in 1957. She wore the diamond tiara he gave her – "you are my queen" – to the Oscars in 1957, where Todd won best picture for Around the World in 80 Days.
Another present was the Cartier Ruby suite which he surprised her with as she was swimming laps in the pool of her luxury Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat villa. She was without a mirror and looked at her reflection in the pool and wrote afterwards: "I just shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike's neck, and pulled him into the pool after me."
It will be a sale the like of which has not been seen since Sotheby's sold Wallis Simpson's vast collection of jewellery by the shores of Lake Geneva in 1987. Taylor was, naturally, at the sale, outbidding everyone to buy the "Prince of Wales" brooch that she admired whenever she saw the duchess.
Other pieces in the sale relate to specific films such as her diamond, gold, emerald and sapphire Night of the Iguana brooch which always brought to mind lovely days spent at her Mexican residencia in Gringo Gulch, Puerto Vallarta – joined, as it was, by a bridge to Burton's.
Taylor always intended that her collection would go to auction. In her 2002 memoir, My Love Affair With Jewellery, Taylor wrote: "I never, never thought of my jewellery as trophies. I'm here to take care of them and to love them. When I die and they go off to auction I hope whoever buys them gives them a really good home."
François Curiel, Christie's international jewellery director, recalled first meeting Taylor in 1998: "It was clear that she possessed an expert's eye for craftmanship, rarity, quality and history. She collected the best pieces from the best periods, and as a result her collection boasts exquisite examples from the most celebrated of jewellery designers."