Elizabeth Taylor’s glittering legacy in Christie’s spotlight

Ahead of an exhibition of Elizabeth Taylor's jewellery in Dubai, Christie’s international jewellery expert, David Warren, tells the stories behind a few key pieces and reveals what made them so special to the Hollywood icon

Selected pieces from Elizabeth Taylor’s vast jewellery collection recently departed on a three-month international tour, stopping at key art centres around the world, including Moscow, London, Los Angeles, Dubai, Geneva, Paris, and Hong Kong, before the whole collection arrives at Christie's in New York for auction in December.

Below, Christie’s international jewellery expert, David Warren, gives a special preview of some of the magnificent jewels that will be on display at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, Dubai, on Sunday 23 October.

The Mike Todd Tiara
An antique diamond tiara, circa 1880
Gift from Mike Todd, 1957
Estimate: US$60,000-US$80,000

When American film producer (and Taylor’s third husband) Mike Todd gave the tiara to Taylor he told her: “You are my queen, and I think you should have a tiara.” She wore it for the first time to the Academy Awards ceremony of 1957, when Mike Todd’s film, Around the World in 80 Days, was nominated for Best Picture. Even though it wasn’t fashionable to wear tiaras, she did it anyway, because as she said: “He was my king.” That night, Around the World in 80 Days won the Best Picture award.

The Cartier Ruby Suite
A suite of ruby and diamond jewellery, by Cartier
Gift from Mike Todd, August 1957
Necklace estimate: US$200,000-US$300,000
Bracelet estimate: US$150,000-US$200,000
Earrings estimate: US$80,000-US$120,000

There is another famous occasion where Taylor wore her tiara combined with a swimming suit. It was in August 1957, when the Todd-Taylors were summer holidaying in the South of France and she swam some laps in the pool. That’s also the moment when Mike Todd surprised her with the famous ruby suite. Without a mirror at hand to see how her new jewels looked, she studied her reflection in the pool instead. When she saw the full array of dazzling jewels lighting 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 Richard Burton Ruby and Diamond Ring
A ruby and diamond ring, of 8.24 carats, by Van Cleef & Arpels
Gift from Richard Burton, Christmas 1968
Estimate: US$1m-US$1.5m

Early in their marriage, Richard Burton promised Taylor he would buy her a special ruby, with perfect red colour. “But it has to be perfect,” he warned. Four years after making the promise, he tucked a very small box into the bottom of Taylor’s Christmas stocking. This is how Taylor recalled the story: “Once the unwrapping and cleaning was done, I went upstairs to change and my little daughter Liza followed me, with her hand behind her back, saying, ‘Daddy said to tell you that you left something important in the bottom of your Christmas stocking – which hand?’ I guessed the right hand and in it was the smallest box I’d ever seen and when I opened it, it glowed with the fire of the most perfect coloured stone. Richard loved rubies; it was his favourite stone – red for Wales.”

La Peregrina – The Legendary Pearl
A 16th-century pearl
Ruby and diamond necklace designed by Elizabeth Taylor, with Al Durante of Cartier
Gift from Richard Burton, 23 January 1969
Estimate: US$2m-US$3m

This remarkable pearl of 203 grains in size – equivalent to 50 carats – ranks as one of the most important historic pearls in the world. Discovered in the 1500s in the Gulf of Panama, the pear-shaped pearl became part of the crown jewels of Spain. Richard Burton famously bought the pearl for Taylor at auction in 1969 for US$37,000, outbidding a member of the Spanish Royal family. Inspired by a 16th-century portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, she later commissioned Cartier to design an exquisite new mount of matched natural pearls and rubies to offset what she called “the most perfect pearl in the world”.

The Night of the Iguana brooch
By Jean Schlumberger, Tiffany & Co.
Gift from Richard Burton, 11 august 1964
Estimate: US$200,000-US$300,000

Like the tiara given to her by Mike Todd, this brooch has another close link to a famous moment in film history. Richard Burton gave this more catfish than Iguana brooch to Taylor to wear to the star-studded premiere of his film The Night of the Iguana.

The Prince of Wales Brooch
D diamond brooch, circa 1935
From the collection of the Duchess of Windsor
Estimate: US$400,000-US$600,000

In Taylor’s own words: “I first met the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when I was 18 and married to Nicky Hilton. Later when Richard [Burton] was filming in Paris we became closer and at one of our encounters the Duchess wore a pin that was the insignia of Wales, which I loved especially because Richard was so Welsh all the way through. The Duke of Wales had the brooch made for the Duchess and when Lord Mountbatten came to collect all the Royal pieces, he missed that one and it stayed in her collection. I saw her wearing it at different occasions though with her illness our contact vanished, but I saw the pin when her estate came up for auction in 1987. That was my chance to own this exquisite jewel and it was important to me because the money was going to AIDS research. Even though I had never bought myself any important jewellery before, I told myself that I was going to bid on that pin and that I was going to get it.”  

The Bulgari Emerald Suite
A suite of emerald and diamond jewellery, by Bulgari
Gift from Richard Burton, 1962-1967
Necklace estimate: US$1m-US$1.5m
Pendant estimate: US$500,000-US$700,000
Ring estimate: US$600,000-US$800,000
Bracelet estimate: US$300,000-US$500,000
Earrings Estimate: US150,000-US$200,000

When filming Cleopatra in Rome, Taylor took Burton to the Bulgari shop at Via Condotti and during their marriage, several trips to this prestigious address followed until the suite was completed. Taylor wore these jewels all over the world including in 1976 when she met Queen Elizabeth II at a gala dinner in Washington DC, and cherished them tremendously.

Dubai exhibition details: 23 October from 2pm-10pm, Godolphin Towers Hotel at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel. The sale will take place on 13-16 December in New York.

• Also taking place at Christie's Dubai in October (25-26) will be its auction of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art. Venue: Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel.