Elizabeth Taylor Revisited–When One Post Just Isn’t Enough

A few months back I wrote about Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewelry, based on her book, My Love Affair With Jewelry.  Little did I know that the blog would spark so much interest, both in me and in others.  After more research and a presentation at our store, I feel empowered to add to the topic. 

Elizabeth Taylor was always a lady, always “put together.” These were the words of a friend of hers who I was fortunate to speak with.  She wore jewelry appropriate to the occasion.  She owned big, dripping, diamond, emerald, and ruby jewelry which she wore on the ‘red carpets.’  But she also owned more modest pieces like strings of beads and charm bracelets.  According to her friend, she never left her room without jewelry adorning her outfit, but she made sure the jewelry fit the occasion.  

She obviously loved receiving gifts of jewelry, but she was always willing to share her pieces with the world.  She didn’t lock them away.  As she said in her book, “When I wear it anyone can look at it, and I’ll let anyone try it on.”  For all that she owned, I’m not convinced she was materialistic.  I think she cared most about people.  She related to people and had many friends.  The people who knew and loved her most understood that the receiving of gifts was her top ‘Love Language.’  Malcolm Forbes once gave her a suite of paper jewelry that she treasured. A gift was an expression of love, and that was most important to her.

Paper Jewelry from Malcolm Forbes

 

Elizabeth always knew that, when she died, most of her jewelry would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Her collection would not remain intact.  She hoped that the new owners would love the pieces as much as she did, and that they’d see themselves as caretakers.  “Nobody owns anything this beautiful.  We are only the guardians,” she said.  

In December, 2011, nine months after Elizabeth died, her jewelry did indeed get auctioned by Christie’s, both in a live auction at New York’s Rockefeller Center and also through an on-line auction.  The live auction was the most valuable jewelry auction in history, raising almost $116 million.  I spoke with someone who went to the auction.  She and her husband had hoped to purchase some of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry for their store, just for promotional purposes.  But the pieces were fetching two, three, and up to ten times the auction estimate.  They ended up buying the paper jewelry, and even that sold for $6,875!  

The on-line auction had over 950 items–jewelry, clothing, accessories, and decorative arts–that sold over the extended period of December 3rd – 17th.  Altogether the auctions raised over 150 million dollars for the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and its beneficiaries. The Trust completely funds the operating costs of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

 One controversy regarding the auction casts a shadow over its success.  In May, 2017, the Elizabeth Taylor Trust filed suit against Christie’s for misrepresenting one of Ms. Taylor’s most iconic diamonds, the Taj Mahal.  In 2012, the buyer of the diamond claimed that he was led to believe the diamond was once owned by Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal.  He wanted his $8 million back when he learned there was no proof the Shah had ever owned it.  Christie’s refunded his money, but the Trustees felt that Christie’s action was inappropriate.  The trustees never portrayed the diamond as something that had belonged to the Shah, and they were upset that the best opportunity to sell the diamond was gone because of miscommunication.  As it stands right now, Christie’s possesses the diamond and the Trustees have the cash.  After years of trying to resolve the controversy through mediation, the decision was made to go through the courts.  It sound like a terrible mess which will probably take years to untangle. 

Elizabeth Taylor lived a complicated life.  She was often misunderstood.  It makes sense that, even after she’s gone, there’s some untangling to be done.  But I hope you agree with me that learning more about this fascinating celebrity is worth the effort.

 

Elizabeth Taylor’s Stories of Jewelry

Elizabeth Taylor

 

One of our favorite clients recently lent us his copy of Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Published by Simon and Schuster in 2002, the book contains 280 illustrations of her jewelry.  Even better, the text contains many of her personal stories about the jewelry.  She was a knowledgeable collector, and both her passion for and knowledge of jewelry shine through in these stories.  She saw herself as the custodian of her pieces–“here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.”  She understood that, in the future, other people would have them, and she hoped that they would cherish the jewelry and respect it.  As she said, “. . .this kind of beauty is so rare and should be treated with such care and admiration.”  

The first story she told was one of the best!  She always loved pretty things and, because her dad owned an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she was a frequent visitor.  There was also a boutique in the hotel, and it was there that she saw the perfect pin for her mother.  It was pretty expensive–about $25.  That’s a lot of money for a twelve-year-old who earns 50 cents a week!  But she saved for it and eventually was able to give it to her mom for Mother’s Day.  It was one of her mom’s most valued possessions.  

La Peregrina, before and after re-mount

Another favorite story for me was her mishap with a most famous pearl, La Peregrina.  Mary Tudor of England wore this natural, teardrop pearl way back in the 1500s and, over the centuries, many other queens wore it, but in 1969 Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.  Soon after it was purchased, she was wearing the pearl on a delicate chain around her neck, when she reached down to find it missing!  Fortunately, she was in her suite at Caesar’s Palace, so she knew it had to be in one of the rooms.  Carefully, she started looking for it, trying not to arouse suspicion in her husband. She walked back and forth across the thick carpet in her bare feet, praying to feel the pearl below.  All of a sudden, she saw one of her dogs chewing on, what appeared to be, a bone.  In a flash, she opened the puppy’s mouth and found La Peregrina!  Amazingly, it was not scratched.  “I did finally tell Richard,” she said.  “But I had to wait at least a week!” 

The Welsh Pin, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson 

Elizabeth Taylor became friends with many famous people during her life.  Two of them were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  The Duchess wore this Welsh Pin whenever she saw Elizabeth, because Elizabeth liked it so much.  It was actually a royal pin that the Duke had received when he was Prince of Wales.  When the Duchess’s estate went to auction in 1987, the pin was the item Elizabeth just had to bid on. She felt that the Duchess wanted her to have it. And she knew that the proceeds were going to a cause she believed deeply in–AIDS research.  She was one of two big bidders, but she made the last bid, for $623,000.  

If you ever have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it.  It was filled with stories that helped me understand the personality of Elizabeth Taylor.  And the pictures of the jewelry were amazing!   I’ll close with a quote of Elizabeth’s that, I think, shows something of her true character. “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share.  Some people lock their passions up in vaults, behind dark doors, so it’s only theirs.  I don’t understand that mentality at all.  Each piece is different, each piece is unique.  And they each call out, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I do, however, have a safe!”