October 2011

IMAGE Queen Elizabeth

A spectacular auction offers a glimpse into the world of true Hollywood royalty by MAYER RUS

  • Antique diamond tiara, a gift from Mike Todd in 1957
  • Bulgari emeralds and diamonds from Richard Burton, 1958–63
  • Prince of Wales brooch, 1935, from the Duchess of Windsor collection
  • The famed 33.19-carat diamond, presented by Burton in 1968
  • Van Cleef & Arpels earrings, Burton’s gift to honor the new grandmother
  • Taj Mahal diamond, 1627, on a gold-and-ruby Cartier chain
  • Jean Schlumberger brooch from Tiffany, 1964, for the premiere of <i>Night of the Iguana</i>
  • Gold necklace with 18th- and 19th-century ivory opera passes, from the Edith Head estate

Paul Newman asked the question, “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?” Elizabeth Taylor had the answer: “Just staying on it, I guess—long as she can.” Few stars have ever managed to stay atop the hot tin roof of Hollywood longer than Dame Elizabeth.

When the indomitable actress passed away in March, she left behind a trove of jewels, gowns and art, much of which will be auctioned by Christie’s during a series of sales in New York (December) and London (February). Together, the items paint a picture of a life lived in the company of sublime beauty and glamour.

The jewels deliver an object lesson to rappers and Tinseltown poseurs in the true meaning of bling. The star of the show is the famed 33.19-carat diamond Richard Burton gave to Taylor—it’s estimated to fetch between $2.5 million and $3.5 million. Other treasures include the Taj Mahal Diamond (circa 1627), presented by Burton to Taylor on her 40th birthday, and such curiosities as the diamond earrings she designed for her 1991 marriage to Larry Fortensky.

The couture component of the sale contains items of equal interest, if not expense. Consider the diamanté-encrusted black velvet evening cape by Tiziani that Taylor wore to Princess Grace of Monaco’s Scorpio Ball in 1969. It’s a knockout. Signature frocks by Halston, Chanel, Versace, Dior, Emilio Pucci, Thierry Mugler, Valentino and Arnold Scaasi trace the actress’ travels through the beau monde decade after decade.

Taylor’s cache of impressionist and modern art is perhaps the biggest surprise. Raised with an appreciation for such things by her father, art dealer Francis Taylor, she assembled a collection that included significant 19th-century paintings by Degas, Renoir and Pissarro, along with 20th-century works by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney.

Happily, one need not hop on a plane to get a peek at the material remains of Taylor’s glorious life. A traveling exhibition lands at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pacific Design Center satellite October 13–16 as part of an international tour that hits Moscow, London, Dubai, Geneva and Hong Kong. A portion of the proceeds generated by the exhibition and related publications will be donated, fittingly, to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. If you can’t afford to get in on the bidding for that diamond ring, the $20 admission is a small price to pay to celebrate the legend that is Liz.