Sunday, September 11, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor's prized passion

Christie's will soon auction top pieces from Elizabeth Taylor's jewellery collection. The stories behind the dazzling pieces are just as priceless

Elizabeth Taylor dazzled the world with her beauty, lavish lifestyle — and an unquenchable passion for diamonds and jewels that was fuelled by the great loves of her life.

The late Hollywood star amassed one of the foremost jewellery collections in the world, including a 33.19-carat diamond ring and a 16th-century pear-shaped pearl from one of her seven husbands, Richard Burton.

Christie's auction house will sell her complete jewellery collection, valued at $30 million (Dh110 million), in New York on December 13-14.

"These are the jewels that Elizabeth Taylor received from the loves of her life, Mike Todd and Richard Burton," said Christie's jewellery expert Rahul Kadakia. "They're from moments in life that were dear to her," jewels that were bought at Bulgari in Rome, at Cartier in New York and at auctions.

The stories behind them are as priceless as the gems. In a 2002 memoir, My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor took readers on a personal journey of her collection, describing how she came to own each piece.

"I never, never thought of my jewellery as trophies," she wrote. "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."

It's an extraordinary collection of rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires in intricate and bold designs.

Among the standouts is the 16th-century La Peregrina, one of the largest and most symmetrically perfect pear-shaped pearls in the world, which Burton purchased for Taylor in 1969 as a Valentine's Day gift.

The two had met in Italy on the set of the 1963 film Cleopatra, and married for the first time in 1964.

The journey of the gem

Once part of the Crown Jewels of Spain, the pearl later passed into the hands of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon III and the Duke of Abercorn.

When it came up at auction in New York, Burton snapped it up for $37,000 (Dh135,900), beating out the underbidder, a member of the Spanish Royal family. Cartier later created a ruby and diamond necklace from which the pearl was suspended, a design that was inspired by the Velazquez portraits of Spain's Queen Margarita and Queen Isabel wearing the pearl as a necklace.

Taylor, who was married eight times — twice to Burton — died in March. She was 79. The couple appeared together in about a dozen films.

In 1972, Burton purchased the 17th-century Taj Mahal diamond pendant for Taylor's 40th birthday. The transaction took place at John F. Kennedy International Airport because the couple didn't have time to run into the city before catching a flight, Kadakia said.

The heart-shaped diamond is associated with one of history's greatest love stories. It belonged to Emperor Shah Jahangir, who had the diamond inscribed with his wife's name "Noor Jahan". He later passed the stone on to his son, Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife Mumtaz, who died during childbirth.

Cartier later recreated the diamond's original silk cord as a gold rope-like necklace set with rubies and diamonds. The necklace has a pre-sale estimate of $300,000-$500,000 (Dh1.1 million-Dh1.8 million).

"Jewellery was a way of life for Elizabeth Taylor. They were her friends. She enjoyed wearing them because they reminded her of the great moments in her life, the great places in her life," Kadakia said.

Like the time Taylor's third husband, theatre and film producer Mike Todd, gave her a Cartier box as she sat by the pool at a rented villa in the south of France. Inside was a ruby necklace, matching earrings and bracelet.

"She was so happy that she jumped into the pool wearing all this jewellery and started doing laps," Kadakia said.

One of the most extravagant gifts Taylor received from Burton was the asscher-cut 33.19-carat diamond set in a platinum ring. Known as the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, Kadakia said its size and clarity makes it a perfect gem. Burton purchased it in 1968 at a New York auction for $305,000 (Dh1.12 million).

"Elizabeth Taylor used to refer to it as her baby and wore it as often as she could," said Kadakia, including in nearly all her subsequent films.

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