World famous movie star Elizabeth Taylor was not just one of Hollywood’s most recognisable actresses of the 20th century, but also an avid jewellery expert and collector. As an icon of old-Hollywood glamour, she amassed one of the world’s most prestigious jewellery collections and even authored her own book, My Love Affair with Jewellery. When her collection went up for auction at Christie’s in 2011, all her items were sold amounting to a record-breaking $115m (£74m) sales figure, which was more than double the previous record for a private jewel collection. Her jewellery, unsurprisingly, was decadent and centred around 70s-style statement pieces with large, colourful jewels and plenty of diamonds.
Elizabeth Taylor was born in Hampstead, London in 1932 to American art dealer parents. The family then moved back to America in 1939. Back in California, Taylor’s parents were often urged to put their young daughter in films. Young Elizabeth Taylor then took on a few minor roles, before landing her first starring role at age 12 as Velvet Brown, a young horse trainer in National Velvet. The film became an instant hit and box office success and paved the way to Taylor’s later stardom.
Elizabeth Taylor’s career in Hollywood spanned six decades. During that time, she starred in more than fifty films, won two Oscars, and was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000. Her most notable films include Cleopatra (1963), which saw her exhibit iconic looks such as a 24-carat gold cape and lavish headdresses, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play. During her long career, Taylor’s love life also attracted a great deal of media attention. She was married eight times, twice to Hollywood actor and Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton, who would gift her some of the most famous jewels in the world.
Influence in jewellery
Elizabeth Taylor was bold, beautiful, and unapologetically glamorous. Her jewellery collection was no different, full of colourful large emeralds, rubies, and gleaming diamonds that reflected the trends of the 70s. Particularly of note was the Krupp diamond, now known as the Elizabeth Taylor diamond, given to her by Richard Burton. A large Asscher cut 33.19-carat diamond, the Krupp diamond belonged to the German Krupp industrialist family before it was sold to Richard Burton in 1968 who gifted it to Elizabeth Taylor. She considered the diamond one of her favourite pieces and wore it as a ring. It fetched $8.8 million when it was auctioned at Christie’s in 2011.
Over the course of her relationship with Burton, Taylor amassed some of the most iconic jewellery pieces of her collection: she remembers that “Richard was so romantic that he’d use any excuse to give me a piece of jewellery”. These pieces include a 50.6-carat La Peregina pearl, a pear-shaped pearl attached to a double-stranded pearl and ruby necklace that once belonged to Mary Tudor of England – the pearl sold for an $11.8 million, a world record for a pearl jewel. Finally, not every one of her jewellery pieces was attached to Burton – one of the most iconic pieces from her collection is the Mike Todd Tiara, an antique diamond tiara from the 1880s, which she famously wore to the 1957 Academy Awards.