Perhaps one of the most iconic jewellery aficionados of recent time, British-American actress Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most highly regarded stars of ’50s Hollywood cinema and renowned for being showered with beautiful gifts, including spectacular jewellery, by her many husbands.
Born in London in 1932, Elizabeth Taylor became one of the world’s most glorious and glamorous film stars. Perhaps best known for her role as Cleopatra in the 1963 film, other highlights from Taylor’s career include Giant (1956) and theatre play Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress. She also won an Academy Award for her performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1996). Elizabeth was renowned for her rollercoaster of a personal life, too, during which she had eight husbands. However, despite both her success and personal downfalls, Elizabeth Taylor was one of the first public figures to front HIV/AIDS activism. In 1985, she co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research and, in 1991, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
During both her high and low points, Taylor never ceased to look fantastically glamorous, sporting some of the prominent jewellery the world had ever seen at both formal events and friends’ parties.
Some of Taylor’s most iconic pieces of jewellery include:
At the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, Elizabeth wore a diamond tiara gifted to her by her third husband, film producer Mike Todd. In her book, A Life in Jewelry, Elizabeth wrote, “When [he] gave me this tiara, he said, ‘You’re my queen, and I think you should have a tiara,'” adding, “I wore it for the first time when we went to the Academy Awards. It was the most perfect night, because Mike’s film Around the World in 80 Days won for Best Picture. It wasn’t fashionable to wear tiaras then, but I wore it anyway, because he was my king.” Despite being thought “unfashionable”, Taylor pulled it off.
In 1957, Todd presented Taylor with yet another gift and the story is most captivating. “I got out and put my arms around him, and he said, ‘Wait a minute, don’t joggle your tiara.’ Because I was wearing the tiara he had bought for me in the pool! He was holding a red leather box, and inside was a ruby-and-diamond bib necklace, which glittered in the warm light. It was like the sun, lit up and made of red fire. First Mike put it around my neck and smiled. Then he bent down and put matching earrings on me. Next came the bracelet. Since there was no mirror around, I had to look into the water. The jewelry was glorious, rippling red on blue like a painting. I shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck, and pulled him into the pool after me. It was a perfect summer day and a day of perfect love,” Taylor wrote. She was again spotted wearing the set in 2001 at an event in New York.
Perhaps Elizabeth Taylor’s most famous jewels, the Taylor-Burton Diamond is a 69.42-carat diamond that Elizabeth’s fifth husband, actor Richard Burton, purchased for her – he paid more than one-million dollars for the pear-shaped stone. Originally, the diamond came set in a ring; however, Taylor thought it “too big” and instead “had Cartier design a necklace” which she later wore to the Academy Awards in 1970, paired with a pastel blue gown and understated diamond drop earrings.
After Taylor passed away in 2011, suffering heart failure at age 79, both her fashion and jewellery collections were auctioned off by world-famous auction house Christie’s to raise funds for the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. In total, Taylor’s jewellery sold for a staggering $156.8 million.
Some of the highlights of the Elizabeth Taylor Christie’s Auction include:
The Emerald-and-Diamond Earrings
A gift from Richard Burton in 1960, it seems Taylor’s emerald-and-diamond Bulgari earrings were some of her favourites as she sported them not only to the Paris premiere of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 but also in 1975 when she met Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in Washington.
The Charm Bracelet
An incredibly personal piece of jewellery, Elizabeth’s gold charm bracelet featured dozens of precious charms that were both gifted and purchased by Elizabeth. The charm bracelet also featured a Henry VIII gold half-sovereign from 1544 and a gold locket engraved with the names of Taylor’s children.
The Night of the Iguana Brooch
Certainly one of Elizabeth’s more statement pieces, the Night of the Iguana Brooch is a Schlumberger brooch crafted by Tiffany & Co in 1964. The brooch was a gift from Richard Burton which he gave to Elizabeth while in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to celebrate the opening of his film, Night of the Iguana.
The Grandmother Necklace
Elizabeth was a young grandmother at the age of just 38. Her then-husband, Richard Burton, marked the occasion by giving Taylor a gorgeous gold-and-diamond necklace crafted by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1971. In Taylor’s words, the necklace made her “heart start clicking like a castanet.”
La Peregrina Necklace
Possibly of the most famous jewels in the world, La Peregrina was passed through the Spanish royal family and, eventually, ended up around the neck of Mary I of England, also known as Bloody Mary. The necklace features dozens of both natural and cultured pearls, as well as diamonds and rubies. Richard Burton gifted the necklace to Elizabeth, which she described as “the most perfect pearl in the world.” In 2011, as part of the Christie’s auction, the necklace sold for a staggering $11 million.
The above are just some of Elizabeth’s most famous jewels from her immense collection – the Christie’s auction included more than 30 pieces and excluded items still owned by the Taylor family.
Without a doubt, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery collection will go down in history not only as one of the most valuable ever amassed by a public figure but also as one of the most beautiful. Many of the individuals, both friends and otherwise, that purchased Elizabeth’s jewellery remain unnamed.