Friday, October 2, 2015

Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry

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!


une femme said...

What stunning pieces. She certainly did have a good eye, and the glamour to carry them off. Thanks for sharing so much of this lovely book!

Anonymous said...

Wowza! My favorite is the ruby ring. Love the story behind it and rubies are my birthstone. That one is so perfect.

Jill said...

Hello Deja! I am so happy you stopped by to see this post. I always love it when you do a Liz post on your blog! I shared only a tiny fraction of this book, I do recommend owning a copy, it is just gorgeous. xx

Jill said...

Hi Helen! You are so lucky to have ruby as your birthstone! My bd is in August and it took me years to love peridot, which I finally appreciate, but I do love rubies so much more! I think that ring is my favorite ring in the book, surpassing all those gigantic diamonds. I just love colored gemstones so much more! xx

Jennifer Connolly said...

Amazing pieces. I love that page you left open. She certainly lived quite an exciting life. The jewels are out of this world!! Heather and I love you to share this post with us on STYLEfocus today! I want to read this book!

Jill said...

Hi Jennifer! I am SO glad you reminded me about #Stylefocus, I almost forgot! I have been in a tizzy since school started this year. My kids are just now having their first full week back to school, can you believe it? I am definitely joining you all with this post! I think you would really like this book, it is so fun to look at and makes me miss Liz even more. She was such a unique person. They really don't make Hollywood superstars like this anymore! xx

Karena Albert said...

Jill, An Astounding collection and I must read this book!!
I really cannot choose a favorite as I adore so many of her jewels.
A life well lived!! I hope you will visit soon!

The Arts by Karena

La Contessa said...


Vannessa@Luxuria said...

Oh Lordy!!! As an owner of a jewelry boutique this book is like Christmas has come early!!! What gorgeous pieces. Ms Taylor really had some of the best gems money could buy.
Fabulous post!!

rosie said...

Hi Jill,

There will never be another Liz Taylor. She was an unbelievable beauty. Am going to find that book & reminisce about her fantastic life which she lived with such glamour, passion & compassion.

All the jewels you highlighted were fabulous. The one I can't stop looking at is La Peregrina.

GSL said...

These really are gorgeous pieces and Liz Taylor was born to wear spectacular jewels. She was such a great beauty that they complimented each other as Liz's great beauty could never be overshadowed even by those exquisite pieces. I like the piece she wore in 'Anne' best.

Heather Lindstrom said...

What a fabulous book, Jill!! The jewelry is simply stunning--of course--and the stories behind the pieces are a jet-setters dream come true. I loved reading the story of the jewelry received glamorous!
Thanks for sharing such fantastic style with our #stylefocus Lifestyle Linkup this month!
xx, Heather

Jill said...

Hi Karena! I hope you can get a copy of this book. It is so beautiful. I read it every morning with a cup of coffee nearby and it was such a gorgeous way to start the day! xx

Jill said...

Hi La Contessa! I hope you can get a copy of this book that is in good condition and not too expensive. Earlier this year I kept bidding on it on eBay but was outbid every time! My mother saved the day, as she often does. xx

Jill said...

Hi Vannessa! Oh I will come look you up if you have a boutique, is it online or bricks-and-mortar? I think you should own a copy of this book, it seems required reading for a jewelry boutique owner! Thank you for stopping by, it is so nice to meet you! xx

Jill said...

Hi Rosie! I think you will really like this book, I am still picking it up to look at pictures, and I think it will help me with research into certain styles of Van Cleef & Arpels, Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., and Bulgari. After reading it, I am kicking myself that I didn't make it to the Christie's auction preview of her jewels. I remember when it happened but I was a little overwhelmed by the press reports of the crowds and the line to get in. Did you go? xx

Jill said...

Hi GSL, I think you said it so well--the pieces never overwhelmed her. She was born to wear these gems and she looked so good in them! I can just imagine what it would have been like to see her in person in that Cartier ruby and diamond necklace in the late 1950s. I think she would've literally bedazzled anyone who looked at her. xx

Jill said...

Hi Heather! I really love joining the link-up every month and I am so glad Jennifer reminded me of it because it has been crazy around here with back to school schedules and a ruined laptop (that would be mine). I hope your husband surprises you with jewels poolside sometime, that would be so perfect for you especially! Thanks again for a terrific and interesting link-up every month. xx

Sandy at You May Be Wandering said...

Wow! What a great book showcasing a stunning collection!!

rosie said...

Hi Jill,

Well, the Christie Preview was another coulda, shoulda but didn't.

As a teenager I got to see Liz & Dick at a theater benefit for the Welsh Coal Miners families. There had been a mining disaster in Wales which left families impoverished. It was an evening of poetry reading by just the two of them. There was a lot of Dylan Thomas.

A close friend of mine was attending the Academy of Dramatic Arts which was run by Philip Burton (Burton's substitute father) so I am pretty sure the tickets were gratis.

My seat was way up top (used to be called the nosebleed section) but I still remember Burton's voice. And what a voice. Also got to see him play Hamlet on Broadway. Again, that voice.

No costume in Hamlet - he work a black turtleneck and black pants. In later years I saw him in a revival of Camelot - of course, as King Arthur.

Those two were something else.

Jill said...

Hi Sandy, I hope you get a chance to see this book firsthand. It is fabulous. xx

Jill said...

Hi again Rosie! What a wonderful story of hearing Elizabeth and Richard recite poetry! Wow! I also love that you got to see Burton perform on Broadway. Oh you are a lucky lady, what great memories you have and I am so thrilled when you come share them with me! xx

Linda said...

This looks like a beautiful book & I truly enjoyed finding it for you. Your post on it is just wonderful with the greatest pics. Thanks for writing this up and sharing it, beautiful job!!!

Jill said...

Hi Mom, this is one of the best birthday presents ever. It will be waiting for you to look at the next time you are in Brooklyn! xx