Elizabeth Taylor was just as famous for her jewelry as she was for her beauty and acting ability (Who else remembers White Diamonds?). Her collection was such a phenomenon that it was immortalized in a gorgeous, highly detailed book called Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry.
This coffee table book is chock-full of high-definition photos. Some of the jewels, rings especially, are pictured actual size, and others are bigger. I half-expected to see, “Enlarged to show detail,” on some pages like they put on cereal boxes, but the book doesn’t need much explanation. Pieces like this are meant to be seen up close. Naturally, there are brooches, rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, but being that it’s Elizabeth Taylor, there is also a tiara. I only wish we could see all these pieces sparkle, but as is, they’re dazzling. She doesn’t just stick to diamonds, either–there are emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, and opals, just to name a few. Aladdin’s cave has nothing on Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry box.
Jewelry is far from being a dry catalogue of Elizabeth’s collection; she associated every piece with times and events of her life, and saw her jewelry as a kind of diary. The book isn’t too simple, either–there’s plenty to satisfy those who know about the technical side of jewelry. It’s common to see terms like sautoir and plique du jour in the book. This is all Greek, well, French to me (a ring is a ring is a ring), but it’s interesting to see the language used to describe these pieces.
Elizabeth made it a point to learn about what she had, which is one of the reasons her collection is so prized, besides the obvious fact of the pieces being hers. She owned jewelry from high-end designers like Bulgari, Tiffany, and Cartier and also designed some herself. Her collection is full of variety; everything from a whimsical lily of the valley pin to fun charm bracelets to straight-ahead knockouts such as her Bulgari emeralds. When the collection was auctioned off by Christie’s, it was approached with almost a reverence because it was just that prestigious.
Elizabeth and jewelry go back to her childhood, when she saved up her money to buy a pin for her mother. She was a young teenager at the time, and her dad had an art gallery at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Elizabeth saw the pin in one of the shops–a spray of blue flowers surrounded by diamonds and gold and silver leaves. She made up her mind right then and there to buy it. Elizabeth even asked the shopkeeper if she could give her a good price for it, and the lady promised to put the pin on layaway for her. Once Elizabeth was able to buy the pin, she was absolutely ecstatic, and her parents immensely surprised and proud. Her dad even praised her taste, which is a high compliment from an art dealer. Elizabeth said later that it was the first time she had ever done something important with her own money, and she liked the independence of it. That pin went to Elizabeth after her mother passed away.
When she became an adult, Elizabeth had a way of picking men who were jewelry connoisseurs just like she was. Well, two anyway. Mike Todd and Richard Burton both bought her pieces that were stunning, significant, and in some cases, historic. One necklace sports a pearl called La Peregrina that had been given to Mary Tudor by her husband, Prince Philip of Spain. It was then passed to Margarita and Isabel, also of Spain, and eventually to the Bonaparte family. After that, the pearl’s history gets a wee bit murky–apparently there was another impressive pearl known as the Abecorn, and it’s unknown if this pearl is La Peregrina or the Abecorn. No matter what, the pearl has a long saga of being handed round from distinguished personage to distinguished personage. Including the Burtons, as Richard bought the pearl for Elizabeth at auction in 1969 for $37,000. As a Valentine’s Day present. Must be nice, right? 🙂
Some people who collect such important pieces as these think they have to hide them away in safe deposit boxes and never see them, but not Elizabeth–she bought her jewelry to wear it. When she got the Peregrina pearl, she was on cloud nine, and did nothing but walk around the living room wearing it and touching it. She and Richard were staying at Caesar’s Palace at the time, and it wasn’t as if she could run and tell her next door neighbor about her new necklace. Elizabeth’s elation turned to horror, unfortunately, when she discovered the pearl had fallen out of its setting. Gasp.
Elizabeth didn’t panic, although she really wanted to. She went over the suite with a fine-tooth comb, and the pearl was nowhere to be found. The poor woman was getting desperate, wondering what she was going to tell Richard and where in the world that pearl could be. She had started wandering around in her bare feet, doing anything to find the pearl, when she happened to glance over at she and Richard’s Pekingese puppies. One of them seemed to be chewing on a bone, and Elizabeth got curious, so she opened the puppy’s mouth and found…the missing pearl. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t scratched, at least nothing that could be seen by the naked eye.
Yep. True story. I think if hashtags were around in 1969, Elizabeth’s would have been something like #richladyproblems.
There’s also a bit about Elizabeth and Michael Jackson, who were friends for many years. Michael gave Elizabeth several pieces of jewelry over time, such as a pair of monkey earrings, and one year he gave her a jeweled clutch purse in the shape of an elephant for her birthday. Elizabeth was delighted, and when Michael’s birthday rolled around she gave him an elephant, too, except that this one was real.
Elizabeth didn’t just wear her jewelry, and wasn’t above using it for a good cause. She had a spectacular pink diamond that she loved, but she sold it and used the money to build three bush hospitals in Africa, none of which, unfortunately, prospered.
Elizabeth wasn’t someone who wanted to accumulate bling at the drop of a hat; she enjoyed jewelry as an expression of who she was and the love of her family. She considered herself to be a caretaker of her collection, and even though it’s now scattered among dozens of buyers, this book will always be a tribute to it and a woman of wonderful taste.
That wraps up my Day Three for Crystal’s Elizabeth Taylor blogathon, and she’s got a lot more for you at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Thanks, Crystal–this was fun!
Coming up next month, blogathon-wise:
We’ll also have another “Origins” installment in March, plus some other goodies. Thanks for reading, and see you in a couple of days!
Taylor, Elizabeth. Edited by Ruth A. Peltason. Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore: Simon & Schuster. 2002.