Elizabeth Taylor’s love affair with jewellery actually began when she was just a child, around the same time she made her 1942 screen debut in There’s One Born Every Minute.
“At the age of 10 she saved up her pocket money and bought her mother a nice flower spray brooch,” says David Warren, the London-based head of Christie’s Middle East Jewellery Department. “Although the piece was for her mother [the American stage actress Sara Taylor] I’m sure she enjoyed the whole process.”
Following the actress’s death some 69 years later, 269 precious pieces from her celebrated lifelong collection were entrusted to Christie’s for auction in New York.
“The lots have been divided into a spectacular star-studded evening sale of crème de la crème pieces from her collection on December 13,” says Warren. “The remaining items will be sold the following day.”
Widely heralded as one of the greatest collections ever assembled, Taylor’s jewellery, which spans decades, styles and continents, has been exhibited in Moscow, London, Los Angeles and now Dubai as part of its three-month, seven-city global tour.
From historic jewels to record-breaking diamonds and personal mementos, the exhibition is drawing ardent fans and serious collectors alike. Dubai will display 69 pieces to the public on Sunday, with the coveted 16th-century Peregrina Pearl, sporting a pre-sale estimate of US$2-3 million (Dh7.34-11m), among them.
“The pearl has an extraordinary history, having belonged to eight kings of Spain, a couple of French royals and the Duke of Abercorn’s family,” says Warren. “It will definitely exceed estimates, and given its beauty, history and Elizabeth Taylor’s provenance, I think this makes it the most desirable pearl in the world.”
The remarkable pear-shaped pearl – 203 grains in size, equivalent to 50 carats – was purchased by Richard Burton, Taylor’s fifth husband, at auction in 1969 for $37,000 after he successfully outbid a member of the Spanish royal family. Taylor then designed the setting with Al Durante of Cartier, remarking that she believed it to be “the most perfect pearl in the world”.
Another standout piece set to dazzle Dubai visitors is the “Elizabeth Taylor Diamond”, says Warren. Among the actress’s most rare and cherished possessions, this D-colour, potentially internally flawless diamond ring was another gift from Burton in 1968. It has been estimated to be worth between $2.5m and $3.5m.
“This piece has the most expensive presale estimate and it was something she wore almost every day of her life,” Warren says.
Originally called the Krupp diamond after the German industrialist family that previously owned it, the show-stopping 33.19 carat stone was renamed by the trustees of Taylor’s estate and Christie’s in homage to the glamorous actress, who had treasured it the longest.
“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,” she famously said.
Of Taylor’s seven husbands, her third spouse Mike Todd, like Burton, greatly indulged her love of expensive accessories.
Legend has it that Taylor was swimming laps in the pool of their St Jean-Cap-Ferrat villa in France when Todd surprised her with the complete Cartier ruby-and-diamond suite of earrings, a necklace and bracelet. Such was Taylor’s joy that the playful actress pulled her then husband, fully dressed, into the pool with her.
Although Cartier & Bvlgari suites feature in the exhibition, pieces from other houses, including Boucheron, David Webb, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels, are well represented. So vast, in fact, was Taylor’s collection of treasures, including Art Deco, Edwardian and contemporary pieces, that she designed a walk-in jewellery box to house them, says Warren.
“One of the bathrooms was transformed and refitted with shelves and drawers everywhere so that she could literally walk in and see all her jewels – take them out, enjoy them, play with them and put them back again. She was meticulous and organised – with a jewel for every occasion. She called them her babies and they well and truly were.”
The auction of the film star’s pieces, called The Crown Jewels of Hollywood, is expected to raise in excess of $30m, much of which will be donated to Taylor’s humanitarian and charitable foundations. More info