In December 2011, Christie's hosted a ten-day show displaying the haute couture fashion, jewels, art and memorabilia of late actress, Elizabeth Taylor. The exhibit followed a three-month world tour of Taylor's remarkable collection, enjoyed in Los Angeles, London, Paris, Geneva, Moscow, Dubai and Hong Kong.
Browsing the Christie's catalogue, appropriately entitled "The Crown Jewels of Hollywood," one is taken in by the collection of sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds too opulent to have been worn by anyone other than Taylor herself. The collection is extraordinary not just for its beauty - or market value - but rather, the charming stories attached to each piece, revealing one of the greatest Hollywood romances of all time.
|The Bulgari Emerald Suite: the Burton-Taylor
lovechild (Source: christies.com).
Of Taylor's eight marriages, her most famous was to Richard Burton, an actor whom she fell in love with in Rome on the set of Cleopatra in 1962. The most valuable jewels in her collection, including the Krupp Diamond, the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond and the La Peregrina pearl, were bought for her by Burton over the twelve years they were together. The famous La Peregrina pearl necklace, which Burton bought for Taylor in 1969, was auctioned for $11,842,500 (£7,526,980) in December 2011.
Burton lavished gifts on the woman he called "Ocean," writing on the back of a 1970's photograph of her: "she is like the tide, she comes and she goes, she runs to me, as in this stupendous photographic image." Off the set of Cleopatra and avoiding Italian paparazzi, the couple began visiting the small Bulgari shop on Via Condotti, where Burton purchased for Taylor an emerald and diamond necklace and detachable pendant, pieces Christie's had appraised for more than $2,200,000 (£1,398,300) (the necklace itself fetched $6,130,500 (£3,896,490)).
|The day Taylor beat Burton at a game of
ping pong: the Ping Pong Diamond Rings
If the Bulgari Emerald Suite is considered the Burton-Taylor lovechild, the smaller and more modest design of the Ping Pong Diamond Rings he gave her in 1970 reflects the couple's intimate, everyday life together. The 2010 book, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, by authors Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, details Burton's promise to his wife one day at their chalet in Gstaad to find her a perfect diamond if she could beat him by ten points at a game of ping-pong. The ring, displayed at Christie's, proves the outcome of their intimate ping-pong match, reflecting their playful relationship.
Another element of the Taylor-Burton fairy tale is embodied in the yellow chiffon gown she wore at her first wedding to Burton, on March 15, 1964, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montréal. The designer of the dress, Irene Sharaff, also created costumes for Taylor's role in Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile. It's impossible to look at the gown without associating it with the glowing pictures of the newlyweds exchanging kisses, lost in each other's eyes, likely one of the happiest days of their life together.
However, Taylor's Hollywood life was not without drama, and some expensive jewellery in the collection is also linked to hardship. When Taylor turned 40 in 1972, Burton gave her the 50-carat, heart-shaped Taj Mahal Diamond, which was crafted in 1627 as a gift for the Empress of the Mughal Empire by her husband. The jewel was then given to the Empress' son who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife, Queen Mumtaz, who died while delivering her fourteenth child. With such an elegant gift, Taylor could not have foreseen her husband of ten years betraying her, for the first time, in the weeks that followed. The affair occurred in Budapest, on the set of Bluebeard. Burton disappeared with Alain Delon's former wife, Nathalie, after a late night of filming. Burton showed his regret with the gift of a sapphire ring, but the instability created by the betrayal led to their divorce in 1974.
Another of Taylor's most precious pieces of jewellery represented a short moment of happiness in between the arguments that characterised the life of the Burtons: La Peregrina was a pear-shaped natural pearl which had been worn by Mary Tudor, Queen Isabel of Spain and the Bonapartes. Burton acquired it at a Sotheby's auction beating out a member of the Spanish Royal Family. Taylor asked Cartier to design a new pearl and ruby necklace to accommodate the historical jewel and, according to Kashner and Schoenberger, the pearl was involved in a small accident when one of the couple's puppies almost swallowed it just minutes after she was presented with it.
|The happiest day: Irene Sharaff's
yellow chiffon wedding dress
After their first divorce, Taylor and Burton remarried on October 10, 1975, along the banks of the Chobe River in Botswana, accompanied by onlooking hippopotamuses. Taylor wore a long, green dress, embellished with beads and feathers, by designer Gina Frattini. Unlike the yellow Sharaff gown she wore at their first wedding, this dress seemed to carry some sadness, and just nine months later, they divorced for a second, and final, time.
Taylor remained friends with Burton until his premature death in 1984. After attending his memorial service in London, Taylor went back to America and found a letter he had mailed her days before. The concluding letter of their love story divulged that he wanted her back.
The story behind each piece in The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor allows viewers an intimate look at the life and legacy of the beautiful, charming, and talented actress.
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