The Iconic Jewels of Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor was an icon many times over. A celebrated film star, fashionista and humanitarian, she lived her life with emphatic devotion to her many passions, not the least of which was a passion for fine jewelry.

This year, Christie’s devoted time and space to Taylor’s passion with The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor. The historic event began with an edited public exhibition that spent several months traveling the globe, making appearances in Moscow, London, Los Angeles, Dubai, Geneva, Paris, and Hong Kong, and culminating in a 10-day exhibition of the complete collection, to be followed by the auctioning of the pieces, at Christie’s New York.

Marc Porter, chairman and president of Christie’s Americas, called the exhibition, which also includes haute couture, fine and decorative art, and film memorabilia, “a window into the world of a wonderful woman,” noting her “collection tells us she was a true connoisseur.”

Indeed, the collection that could very well be titled A Life in Jewels, tells the story of an amazing figure in our history through spectacular pieces marking birthdays and anniversaries, film premieres and ping pong matches, becoming a grandmother and becoming a bride. In fact, included among the mix are a series of charm bracelets that literally mark moments in Taylor’s life from her teenage years through adulthood.

Among all the glamour of the pieces, however, runs a common thread that is Taylor’s own discerning eye for jewels that were not only beautiful but important, historic, and perfect in myriad ways. Taylor did not simply purchase, she researched, listened and learned, eager not simply for the gems themselves, but for the stories and significance behind them.

“Elizabeth Taylor’s passion for jewelry was well-known, but it is her depth of knowledge about fine jewelry that truly impresses,” said Francois Curiel, international jewelry director and president of Christie’s Asia. Curiel first met Taylor in 1998 and was impressed by her “expert’s eye for craftsmanship, 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 jewelry designers.”

It also includes jewelry that traces its roots to some of the most prominent figures in world history, including India’s legendary emperor Shah Jahan. For her 40th birthday, Richard Burton gifted Taylor with The Taj Mahal Diamond, a piece dating to 1627 that was a gift from Shah Jahan to his wife, Mumtaz-i-Mahal, upon whose death he would commission the Taj Mahal in her honor.

“This is without a doubt the greatest private collection of jewelry ever assembled in one place,” Porter said, noting the collection includes everything from Taylor’s “most jaw-dropping diamonds, gems and one-of-a-kind historic jewels, to cherished ‘It’s Tuesday, I love you’ gifts, and never-before-seen keepsakes.”

Among the notable pieces in this storied collection are seemingly endless gifts from Burton, including The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, a 33.19 carat, potentially flawless emerald cut diamond ring; an 8.24 carat oval ruby and diamond ring by Van Cleef & Arpels; an Art Deco style sautoir by Bulgari set with a 52.72 carat sugarloaf cabochon sapphire; and La Peregrina, the legendary necklace that features one of the most important and historic pearls in the world and a fine example of the knowledge, research and care that went into Taylor’s collection.

Discovered in the Gulf of Panama in the 1500s, the pear-shaped pearl is 203 grains in size, the equivalent to 50 carats, and was once part of the crown jewels of Spain. In fact, the pearl can be seen in 17th century Velazquez portraits of the Spanish queens Margaret and Elisabeth. In 1969, Burton, well-schooled by Taylor in the art and importance of fine jewelry, outbid a member of the Spanish Royal family and purchased the pearl for Taylor for $37,000. Taylor then commissioned Cartier to design a Mary Queen of Scots-inspired mount of pearls and rubies to showcase the legendary pearl.

“Elizabeth Taylor understood everything,” said Rahul Kadakia, head of Christie’s jewelry department. “Indian history, Spanish history. They [Taylor and Burton] educated themselves with what they were buying. They wanted to know the history behind the pieces. This collection was curated by her.”

Never shy about her love for her jewelry, Taylor was often quoted praising her pieces and sounding, as any spellbound collector would be, a bit in awe of their splendor. “My ring gives me the strangest feeling for beauty,” Taylor once said of the ring that came to be known as The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. “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.”

That said, it seems very fitting for Christie’s and the trustees of Taylor’s estate to have renamed this piece after the iconic woman who cherished it and, with so many pieces from which to choose, wore this particular diamond nearly every day of her life. It “hums with its own beatific life;” much like Taylor did herself.
Carlo Barberis
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