My friend HappyFace313 left a comment on the post I did about the Rita Dee Hassenfeld auction, noting my reading selection for September, Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry. She wrote that she loved the story about the Prince of Wales brooch once owned by the Duchess of Windsor and how it came to be in Elizabeth Taylor’s possession. I loved this story too and after seeing HappyFace’s comment thought it would be fun to do a post about a few of my favorite pieces from this terrific tome.
The book, published in 2002, is now out of print, but copies are still available from resellers through Amazon or eBay. My copy came by way of my mother, who gave it to me for my birthday. Thank you, Mom!
The book is such a treasure trove of stunning pieces by some of the world’s most famous jewelry houses. Elizabeth had a terrific eye for jewelry, the good fortune to have lovers and husbands give these incredible pieces to her (those gents had damn good eyes themselves, especially Mike Todd and Richard Burton), and the true passion for jewelry that led her to want to learn about the history of certain pieces and to continue to educate her eye throughout her life.
One of the editors of the book was Ruth Peltason, who was the moderator of the Van Cleef & Arpels discussion I attended in June, “Great American Jewelry Collectors: Then & Now.” Based on that talk and this book, I have to say I am now a big fan of Ms. Peltason! I love the way the book is written, the stories help illuminate the details of both a world-class collection and an amazing life, and I know Ms. Peltason had a big hand in that with her wonderful editing.
I loved so many of the pieces featured in this book, but these were my absolute favorites, either for the story involved in how Liz acquired them or just because of their sheer beauty.
|Detail of an earring by JAR. The colors are just stunning!|
Above are a pair of diamond and multicolored sapphire “ball” ear clips by JAR. There was not a lot of information about these, just that Liz purchased them in Paris in 2001, but I am crazy for pavé by JAR and the color of these earrings just stops me in my tracks, every time! From the book: “Each of bombé design, pavé-set with blue, green, and violet sapphires, enhanced by a line of circular-cut diamonds, mounted in 18K gold and silver.”
I say, gorgeous!
|A Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond ring, a gift from Richard Burton.|
I really love this gorgeous and huge ruby and diamond ring by Van Cleef & Arpels. This ring was a present from Richard Burton in 1968 and one Liz almost left behind in her Christmas stocking, not realizing the box was in there, below “apples and oranges and walnuts all mixed together.” Burton had told her four years earlier, “One day I'm going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world. It’s my favorite stone—red for Wales. But it has to be perfect.”
He definitely held out for the right stone. Look at that amazing color!
|Historical and unusual, this necklace once belonged to Edith Head and Elizabeth Taylor!|
I know this necklace has no diamonds or gemstones, but it is still one of my favorite pieces in the book! These are ivory Victorian theatre tickets from turn-of-the-century England which Edith Head, the legendary Hollywood costume designer, collected and had made into a necklace. Incredible! I have never seen anything like them before. Liz said she felt as though Edith Head was her second mother (what a second mom to have!), often stayed at her house, and that they both loved Jack Daniel’s, “so when we came home we would have a nice big glass of Jack Daniel’s together.” Can you imagine? Oh to have joined those two ladies for a drink! Liz had long admired this necklace belonging to Edith, who told Liz she would leave it to her in her will. She did just that, it was the sole thing she bequeathed to her. The book says the ivory tickets were from the 18th and 19th centuries, were opera passes, and were engraved with the name of the opera house, the seat allocation, and the name of the ticket holder. What a wonderful necklace!
Speaking of wonderful necklace...
|La Peregrina with diamond and ruby pendants by Cartier. I weep.|
La Peregrina is probably one of the most famous pieces from Liz’s collection, right up there with the Taylor-Burton diamond or the Krupp diamond. The pear-shaped pearl has a unique provenance—the book says a slave found it in the Gulf of Panama in the early 1500s, earned his freedom with it, and it ended up as part of the crown jewels of the Spanish throne. Prince Philip II gave it as a wedding present to his wife, Mary Tudor of England, and over time it was also owned by the Spanish queens Margarita and Isabel. The book also states it was in the possession of the Bonaparte family in the early 1800s.
|Even Tippi wanted to see the photo of this breathtaking necklace.|
Richard Burton acquired La Peregrina at auction in January 1969, for $37,000. When he purchased the pearl, it looked like this:
|This was the necklace Burton purchased at auction in 1969.|
Liz wore the pearl in its original state in her unbilled walk-on in Burton’s film Anne of the Thousand Days.
|Liz wearing La Peregrina in Anne of the Thousand Days, 1969.|
After three years, Taylor and Burton commissioned Cartier to design a new mount for it, based on a 16th-century painting of Mary, Queen of Scots they had admired. Al Durante of Cartier traveled from New York to the Burtons’ yacht in London with the sketches for the new design. Along with the diamond and ruby motifs, fifty-six matched oriental pearls were included in the final necklace, which took several months to complete.
|A better shot of the main flame motif.|
While I do love what La Peregrina looked like originally, I think what I love even more are the additions to it. Those flame motifs are glorious, I adore how the shape of the flame corresponds to the original diamond bail suspending the pearl. Even the drawings of the design are gorgeous!
|The amazing final design for the flame motif by Al Durante at Cartier. What a talent!|
|Another historical piece, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor and Liz. Wow!|
This “Prince of Wales” brooch is circa 1935 and originally came from the collection of the Duchess of Windsor. Liz had admired the pin when she and Burton had visited the Duke and Duchess at their home in Paris and Wallis offered to let her make a copy of it. Liz refused, saying what the Duchess had was a unique piece. Wallis understood, and told Taylor that she would wear it in her honor every time she saw her. When it came to auction at Sotheby’s in Geneva, in 1987, Liz felt the Duchess would want her to have it and she liked that the money raised by the selling of the Duchess’s jewelry was for AIDS research, a cause close to Liz’s heart. She wrote, “Even though I had never bought myself any important jewelry before—in a shop, much less at auction—I told myself that I was going to bid on that pin and that I was going to get it.”
Got it she did, bidding by telephone, and paying $623,333 for it. She was at home by the pool with her kids as she kept upping the ante by phone (I love the image in my mind of this scene) and said when she won, “I let out the biggest scream and so did the kids, especially when I told them the price...some of them threw themselves in the swimming pool.”
Hilarious. What a brooch and what a story!
|A magnificent orchid brooch by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. More weeping!|
Another brooch belonging to Liz I fell for was this beyond-gorgeous orchid brooch of sapphires and diamonds set in platinum and 18k gold by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. This was yet another gift from Burton, from 1964-65.
|My favorite page in the whole book. What a great story.|
The pages covering the drop-dead gorgeous ruby and diamond Cartier necklace, earrings, and bracelet that Liz’s third husband Mike Todd gave to her are my favorite in the entire book, in the chapter “The Legacy of Love.” I took a picture of them so you could read for yourself how he presented her with the set.
|A ruby and diamond Cartier bib necklace, gift from Mike Todd, August 1957.|
It was difficult to get a shot of the necklace as it appears in the book but it is such a pretty page to turn to!
|The Cartier earrings Mike also gave her.|
|Liz wearing the set, June 1958.|
What a collection and what a life! I barely scratched the surface of all the lovely things in this book so if you ever get a chance to look through a copy, get yourself a comfortable chair and a beverage. You are in for a sumptuous visual treat!
|Bulgari diamond and emerald brooch, a gift from Richard Burton.|
If you have read this book, let me know what you thought of it. If you have not, tell me which piece of jewelry that Liz owned is your favorite, and it does not have to be any that I included here!