Elizabeth Taylor: love affair with jewellery
Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most beautiful British women and the queen of Hollywood, has collected a unique collection of fabulously expensive jewellery. In her heart, diamonds, emeralds and gold competed with the love of the most spectacular men, but, unlike her husbands, they never left her — Taylor’s collection included more than 250 pieces of jewellery art. Afisha.London takes a look at the most famous and historically important pieces from the actress collection, including those that belonged to members of the royal families and the Romanov imperial family.
This editorial is created in partnership with Astteria London.
At auctions in London and New York, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery collection was sold for $200 million, but her entire life was one in a billion. Nature awarded the actress with a rare eye colour, violet, and a double row of eyelashes, because of which her eyes always seemed brightly made up — for her spectacular appearance and the ability to confidently present herself, Taylor was recognized as the main beauty of the golden era of Hollywood. She was the first to receive an astronomical (for those times) fee of one million dollars for her role in Cleopatra and was married eight times, twice to the same person — actor Richard Burton. In her early thirties, Elizabeth already owned Burmese rubies, emeralds, luxurious jewellery from Cartier and Bvlgari and a stunning 33,19-carat Krupp Diamond ring. By the way, Elizabeth received the most expensive and even defiant stones in her collection as a gift from the generous handsome Richard, who, according to Taylor, was the love of her life.
Beauty of the Krupp Diamond and “trolling” of Princess Margaret
The story of the fierce passion of two famous British actors, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, began on the set of the Hollywood peplum Cleopatra, where they played the roles of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. At that time, the actress already had four marriages, three children and an Oscar, and the Welshman Burton, although married, was known as a womanizer. Their romance went around the headlines of all the world’s media, after which the actors left their spouses and joined their fates in the most heatedly discussed marriage of the century. And the huge Krupp Diamond weighing 33,19 carats with an unusual bluish tint became a symbol of their love. At the Sotheby’s auction in New York, the stone cost Burton 305 thousand dollars; before that the jewel belonged to Vera Krupp, wife of the famous German industrialist. Inserted into a ring, the diamond became Elizabeth’s favourite piece throughout her life — the actress liked to repeat that it brings her an amazing sense of beauty.
There is an interesting story associated with this ring. Elizabeth often attended official receptions and film premieres, where she met members of the royal family. Once at such a reception, she was seated next to Princess Margaret, sister of the British Queen Elizabeth II and a recognized style icon in Europe. Known for her rebellious nature and brash antics, Her Highness loved to “troll” world stars. She noticed the sparkling treasure on Elizabeth’s finger and casually said, “This is the most vulgar thing I’ve ever seen”. To which the actress was not taken aback and suggested the princess tries on the ring. There are rumours, that after putting it on, Margaret froze for a long time, admiring its dazzling radiance.
500-year-old La Peregrina pearl and 69-carat diamond
A few years after giving the Krupp Diamond, Richard outdid himself and gave Elizabeth an even more stunning gift, called the Taylor-Burton Diamond. A huge diamond weighing 240,8 carats was found in South African mines in 1966, and after pear-shaped cutting and weight reduction to 69 carats, the diamond ended up in the Cartier jewellery house, where Burton bought it for $ 1.1 million. The stone was so heavy that Elizabeth could only wear it as a pendant or necklace. And the value of the diamond turned out to be so great that the insurance company set a condition — the actress could wear the stone in the presence of security and only 30 days a year, the rest of the time it was kept in a safe. However, the diamond also turned out to be a psychologically heavy burden: it was rumoured that with such a chic gift, Burton begged forgiveness from Elizabeth for an affair on the side. After her divorce from Richard, the actress sold the diamond, and invested the proceeds of 3 million in the construction of a hospital for children.
Another phenomenal gift from the actor was the bright milky pearl La Peregrina (“The Pilgrim-woman”), found in the 16th century on one of the islands in the Gulf of Panama. An unusual pear-shaped pearl weighing almost 56 carats was in the possession of European monarchs and was captured in the portraits of the first crowned Queen of England, Mary I Tudor, Margaret of Austria and Isabella of Bourbon. In 1969, La Peregrina ended up at Sotheby’s auction, where Richard Burton bought the centuries-old jewel for 37 thousand dollars. Cartier experts made an amazing necklace for the pearl, and since then, it has become a constant companion of the actress at social events. After Elisabeth’s death in 2011, the necklace was sold at Christie’s auction for a phenomenal $11.8 million, making La Peregrina the most expensive pearl in the world today.
Friendship with Wallis Simpson and Prince of Wales brooch
Wallis Simpson, wife of the abdicated King Edward VIII, was famous for the same all-consuming passion for jewellery as Elizabeth Taylor. And the scandalous love story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor seemed to Elizabeth similar to her own stormy romance with Richard — in order to marry the divorced Wallis, Edward went through the condemnation of society and had to endure the resistance of the family and Parliament. Each time they met, the actress openly admired the exquisite brooch that Wallis received from Edward in 1935, even before their marriage and his abdication.
The 18-carat gold three-leaf diamond brooch was the heraldic symbol of the Princes of Wales and became an official declaration of love and a proposal to become the only queen of his heart. It is not surprising that the symbolism of the jewellery excited the soul of Elizabeth, who loved not only expensive stones, but also appreciated historically important pieces. It is said that Richard Burton even persuaded Edward to give permission to make a replica of the brooch, but the proud actress refused to accept the “fake”. The coveted little thing fell into the hands of Taylor after the death of the duchess: the brooch was put up for auction at Sotheby’s and the actress had to “fight” with Prince Charles, who was also going to acquire this beautiful symbol.
Emerald set of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna
The jewellery collections of the Romanov dynasty could compete with the treasures of the British crown in beauty and value. For many years, Russian princesses and empresses were collecting magnificent examples of jewellery and setting the fashion for certain stones. For example, diamond tiare russe, popular during the reign of Nicholas II — kokoshnik — also entered Western fashion. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of Vladimir Alexandrovich (son of Emperor Alexander II) owned a fantastically luxurious jewellery collection, the second largest after the imperial one. In photographs from the famous costume ball of 1903, Maria Pavlovna poses in the outfit of a noblewoman, and her headdress and dress are crowned with huge emeralds. The largest of them, encrusted in a brooch, belonged to Catherine II and was presented to Maria Pavlovna by Alexander II as a wedding gift. As you know, after the revolution of 1917, with the help of the British diplomat Bertie Stopford, the princess managed to smuggle her collection from Petrograd to London. How could they have ended up with Elizabeth Taylor? And here we have an interesting story.
After emigrating to Europe, Maria Pavlovna lived only a couple of months and all her huge fortune was divided among four children. The emeralds went to her son Boris, who was able to sell the stones to the Cartier jewellery house, whose masters made new pieces from them. The emerald of Catherine II acquired a teardrop shape and was encrusted in a necklace. The rest of the emeralds were also cut and adorned a tiara for Barbara Hutton, a socialite and heiress to the merchant magnate Frank Woolworth.
It is believed that later the emeralds from the tiara migrated to the famous necklace, which Bvlgari specialists made in the 1960s for Elizabeth Taylor. The Bvlgari set of 16 large emeralds really resembles the precious set of the Romanovs, although there is no documentary evidence that the emeralds of the princess were used in it. One way or another, the necklace became one of the most luxurious gifts of Richard Burton to his queen and, perhaps, the most mysterious jewel in Elizabeth’s collection. After the death of the actress, the piece was sold at an auction for over $23 million.
Taj Mahal controversy, tiara and rubies by Cartier
The exotic heart-shaped Taj Mahal Diamond was a gift from Burton on actress’s 40th birthday in 1972, and after her death, became a bone of contention between the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and Christie’s. Richard bought the jewel, impressed by its legend: in the 17th century, the diamond belonged to the Mughal emperor of India, Shah Jahan, and he, in turn, presented the it to his beloved wife, in memory of whom the incredible beauty of the Taj Mahal was later built. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Cartier jewellery house bought the diamond and enclosed it in a frame of gold and rubies, adding a gold “lace” pendant in the manner of Indian silk. At a Christie’s auction in 2011, the piece was sold for almost $8 million, which is an incredible amount for a jewel from India. However, an anonymous buyer immediately disputed the purchase, stating that the diamond did not belong to Shah Jahan and has no historical value.
Of course, Richard was not the only one who generously gave presents to Elizabeth. Back in 1957, the actress’s third husband, Michael Todd, presented Taylor with an 1880 platinum tiara adorned with diamonds. The diva appeared in it at her first Oscar ceremony, and in 1969, photographers captured how Elizabeth greeted Princess Margaret at the premiere of Staircase in London — the same old tiara crowns the head of the queen of Hollywood. Todd also presented the actress with a Cartier set of Burmese rubies, which has become the envy of many collectors.
However, Elizabeth not only enjoyed wearing jewellery, she devoted an entire book to them — My Love Affair with Jewellery. Is it possible to say that she loved gold and diamonds more than her husbands? Unlikely. Taylor was equally obsessed with passion for men, precious stones and cinema. She went through more than 30 complicated operations, but continued to act in films — in 2000, for her contribution to the film industry, the actress received the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth called Richard Burton the main man of her life. Despite the fact that they spent only 11 years in their first marriage and a year in the second, they maintained mutual affection until the last days of the actor’s life in 1984. In 2010, Elizabeth, already in a wheelchair, found the strength to fly to London for an evening dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama — the reception was held at Buckingham Palace and unveiled a bust in memory of Richard Burton. Seeing the monument to her ex-husband, Elizabeth burst into tears. A year later, the main queen of Hollywood was gone, and items put up for sale, art and jewellery from the star’s personal collection, according to eyewitnesses, blew up the Christie’s auction and secured the actress’s status as a style icon to inspire future generations.
Afisha.London would like to thank Astteria London for collaboration.
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Cover photo: Silver Screen Collection
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