Saturday, April 13, 2024

ELIZABETH TAYLOR: The Glitter, the Sparkle, the Legend

VOICE OF ASIA presents the timeless fashion of Elizabeth Taylor in “Elizabeth Taylor – The Glitter, the Sparkle, the Legend”. This excerpt was a part of Passions, Volume 45, owned by The IBR Asia Group.

Elizabeth Taylor

The late ‘Queen of Hollywood’ – the legendary Elizabeth Taylor (1932 – 2011) – was the ultimate personification of a glamorous screen goddess. A true silverscreen original, she attained everlasting celluloid glory with her exceptional acting abilities, beauty, and larger-than-life charisma. But she was just as famous for her glamorous off-screen persona, her torrid marriages, and of course her awesome collection of sparkling jewellery.

True to her form, Liz, as she was affectionately called, is still able to shine by putting on a great show – even in death. This was evidenced by the enormous interest garnered by her collection of personal treasures, presently on a world tour. Slated to culminate with a spectacular two-day auction at Christie’s at New York in December, this collection of breathtaking personal ‘bling’ is accompanied by her other awesome belongings: dresses by Valentino and Versace, and invaluable paintings by Degas, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

On the first day of the auction – the 13th of December eighty of Elizabeth Taylor’s most iconic jewels will go under the hammer in a special Evening Sale. This will be followed by an additional offering of 189 jewels in two Day Sale sessions, to be held the next day. Here’s the highlights some of the legendary sparklers from the Elizabeth Collection.

The Taj Mahal Diamond

The magical name of Taj Mahal conjures images of not only a magnificent monument that is so sublime, that it was one of the Seven Wonders of the medieval world, but also a tangible manifestation of the pain and sorrow of a lost love. It is thus fitting that one of the greatest love-affairs of the medieval world is linked to the greatest romance of modern times, by the slender gold and ruby chain which carries the name of the Taj Mahal.

The principle piece in this item is a heart-shaped diamond inscribed with the name Nur Jahan – the mother of the great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592 – 1666), builder of the Taj Mahal. It is believed that this diamond was presented to him at the age of 16 by his father. At the age of 35, when Shah Jahan was still a prince, he presented it to his favourite and most beloved wife, Mumtaz-Mahal, who died a mere four years later.

This was the momentous event which caused the inconsolable Shah Jahan – now emperor – to commission the building of the Taj Mahal. The history and legend behind this diamond so captivated Richard Burton, that in 1972 he purchased it as a gift for his own modern-day Mumtaz – Elizabeth Taylor. With its gold and ruby chain created by Cartier, it was presented to her on her 40th birthday.

The Burton Wedding Bands

Like most of the great legendary diamonds of history, this set – the Burton Wedding Bands – carries a tale of intense love and personal turbulence. Likewise, these wedding bands are perhaps the most symbolic and personal jewels of all the glitter that the couple ever had.

These diamond-set wedding bands were presented to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton on the occasion of their first marriage on October the 10th, 1964, in Montreal, and which lasted till the 6th of March, 1974. They were presented yet again by Burton to Elizabeth, when they married for the second time, on the 10th of October, 1975, in Botswana. They are estimated to be worth between US$6,000 and US$8,000.

The “Night of the Iguana” Brooch

Designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., this catfish-looking ‘iguana’ brooch was a gift from Richard Burton in 1964, when their romance was beginning to reach stratospheric heights of passion.

The brooch acquired its name from its association with Burton’s film The Night of the Iguana, as Elizabeth received it in time for her to wear it at the film’s star-studded premiere. Dazzling the crowds with this serpentine jewel of diamonds and gold, accented by emeralds and sapphire, she created an image of glamour which would forever symbolise the heady days of their marriage. It is estimated to cost between US$200,000 and US$300,000.

The BVLGARI Sapphire Sautor and Trombino Ring

Almost every special occasion during the two marriages of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was marked by diamonds. When Elizabeth turned 40 on the 27th February, 1972, she was presented with this magnificent sugarloaf cabochon sapphire sautoir, consisting of 52.72 carats, and done in an Art Deco style. She later added the sapphire and diamond ‘Trombino’ ring to be its perfect mate, making it a set. Both created by BVLGARI, the ring and sautoir are valued at between US$150,000 – US$200,000 and US$600,000 – US$800,000, respectively.

The JAR Sapphire Ear Clips

While Elizabeth’s taste for sparkling creations by super-posh houses such as BVLGARI, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels was legendary, she was also known to aficionados as someone who knew how to create her own jewellery, and for her excellent sense of contemporary design, Elizabeth commissioned this pair of diamond and multi-coloured sapphire earrings – shaped like little balls – in Paris in December 2001.

They were created by celebrated designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal, who maintains a small appointment-only boutique on the Place Vendome. Rosenthal incorporated varying shades of sapphires to evoke the elusive hue of Elizabeth’s mesmeric eyes. They are estimated to be worth between US$100,000 and US$150,000.

The Mike Todd Diamond Tiara

Like all of Elizabeth’s sparklers, each one tells a story about the life of the great actress. This particular one concerns her third husband, actor and producer Michael Todd, who was once described by Elizabeth as “one of the three loves of her life, along with Burton and jewellery.” As their marriage ended with his untimely death in a plane crash in 1958, it also happened to be the only one of Elizabeth’s eight nuptials which did not end in a divorce.

Elizabeth has gone on record as saying that when Michael Todd presented her with this antique diamond tiara, (circa 1880) he said, “You are my Queen.” Feeling rightfully regal, she wore it to the 1957 Academy Awards in Los Angeles, where Todd’s movie Around the World in 80 Days, won the award for the Best Picture.

Richard Burton was a person whose passion for historical panoramas often transcended the epic period-movies he often starred in. His intense love for Elizabeth Taylor – which sometimes bordered on worship – often found expression in extremely expensive trinkets which carried a historical dimension.

At the height of their first marriage in 1969 (they were married twice), Richard presented Elizabeth with a very historically significant necklace – in fact, one of the most important pearls in the world. He had purchased it at an auction for US$37,000, outbidding amongst others, even the Spanish Royal Family.

The item in question was a remarkable 16th century pearl of 203 grains in size – which is equivalent to 55 carats. Discovered in the 1500’s in the Gulf of Panama, the pear-shaped pearl became part of the crown jewels of Spain – then ruled by King Phillip II. After Phillip, the ownership of these rare pearls passed on successively to Queen Margarita and her successor Isabel. Isabel proudly posed with these pearls for a 17th century portrait by Spanish master Velázquez himself.

The present set was designed by Elizabeth Taylor herself, and crafted by the handiwork of Al Durante of Cartier. The pearls, now with a ruby and diamond necklace, are estimated at between US$2 million to US$3 million.

Weighing 6.64 grams, this 33.19 carat sparkler, was one of Elizabeth Taylor’s most iconic diamonds. Once known as the Krupp Diamond, it was one of her most cherished possessions, and she was known to have worn it everyday. The ring was presented to her as a gift in 1968 by that most famous of her seven husbands – her Cleopatra co-star and great love-of-her-life – Richard Burton.

A tangible expression of the tempestuous love affair which both defined the lives of these two thespians, and fascinated the world throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, this diamond today carries an estimated value of between US$2.5 million and US$3.5 million. In homage to the special place which this superb Type IIa diamond had in Elizabeth’s heart, the trustee of her estate and Christie’s have jointly renamed it The “Elizabeth Taylor” Diamond.

Liz Taylor

The Richard Burton Ruby and Diamond Ring

Early in their first marriage (1964 to 1974), Richard Burton had promised Elizabeth Taylor that he would buy her a special ruby with a perfect red colour. However, he added a condition that this would only be done if it was “perfect”.

Four years later on Christmas Day in 1968, Burton, true to his word, tucked a small box into the bottom of Elizabeth’s Christmas stocking. It was so small that she missed it when she opened her gifts. It was only discovered when her daughter Liza, brought it to her. Upon opening it, Elizabeth then uttered the simple-yet-evocative words quoted above. Created by Van Cleef & Arpels, the ruby and diamond ring is estimated to be worth between US$1 million to US$1.5 million.

The BVLGARI Emerald Suite

This spectacular suite is a monumental representation of everything the Taylor-Burton romantic saga stood for. While any collection such as this would be stunning enough for their combined ‘carat’ value, this suite was amassed over several trips to the BVLGARI boutique on the Via Condotti in Rome, during the tempestuous courtship period between the two, when they first became lovers.

This collection began, and grew, when they first met on set during the filming of Cleopatra between 1962 and 1963. The collection continued to grow after more trips were made to the famous store, right up till 1967.

Speaking of their time together in Rome, Richard Burton famously quipped, “I introduced Liz to beer, and she introduced me to BVLGARI.”

The suite consists of emerald and diamond jewellery, including gifts from Richard estimated at between US$1 million and US$1.5 million. Also included is a necklace worth between US$500.000 and US$700,000, a pendant (US$$500,000 to US$700,000), a ring (US$600,000 to US$800,000), a bracelet (US$$300,000 to US$500,000), and earrings (US$150,000 to US$200,000).

The “Granny Suite”

1971 was a momentous year for the 39 year-old Elizabeth Taylor. This because she, while still at this relatively youthful age, had become a grandmother for the very first time. To mark this occasion, as well as to commemorate their very own passionate love affair, Richard Burton presented this lion-themed set of Van Cleef & Arpels jewels to her. Being a set of diamond and gold ‘Barquerolles’ jewellery, it consists of a necklace and a pair of ear pendants, estimated at between US$120,000 and US$180,000 for the former, and US$25,000 to US$35,000 for the latter.

The Cartier Ruby Suite

While swimming in their pool at their villa in St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, one day in 1957, Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband, Michael Todd, came up to her, and he surprised her with a trio of Cartier boxes containing this magnificent suite of ruby jewels. Without a mirror at hand to see how her new jewels looked, she used her reflection in the pool to study them instead. Upon seeing the full array of dazzling jewels shining on her neck, ears and wrist, she recalled, “I just shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck, and pulled him into the pool after me.”

The suite of ruby and diamond jewellery, created by Cartier, consists of a necklace estimated to be between US$$200,000 and US$300,000, a bracelet worth US$150,000 to US$200,000 and earrings worth US$80,000 to US$120,000.

The Ping Pong Diamond Rings

The tempestuous romance which existed between both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton often combined with their fierce competitive spirits, to create eccentric, hilarious, but often very expensive, repercussions. And this robust and competitive love, often spilled over to their sporting and recreational pursuits.

One day in 1970, the then married Burtons, who both loved table-tennis, challenged each other to a game with a difference. This time, it was agreed that if Elizabeth – who never backed down from a competitive challenge – could win by 10 points, Richard would have to buy her diamonds. As it so happened, she did indeed win. The pair promptly set off to town, settling for the smallest possible diamonds they could find. The selected ones were three very small diamond rings which they henceforth named, ‘The Ping Pong Diamonds’. They are now estimated to be worth between US$5,000 and US$7,000.

If diamonds are forever – a phrase which gained common parlance after another Hollywood sensation: the Bond movie carrying that name – then the loves (and there were many of them) of Elizabeth Taylor, are certainly for eternity. Perhaps one of her greatest legacies to her admirers in succeeding generations, is this magnificent manifestation of her vibrancy, brilliance, and ability to outshine everything else. We could be talking about her diamonds, but then, these words also apply to the Divine Elizabeth.

All images courtesy of Christie’s.

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