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Elizabeth Taylor said that she had three great loves in her life — her third husband, Mike Todd, her fifth husband, Richard Burton, whom she married twice, and jewelry.

Both men gave her some magnificent jewels during their marriages, and her collection, second to none, included some of the rarest and most desirable pieces in the world. Her most famous gems were auctioned by Christie’s in 2011, exceeding expectations and raising a record $137 million to become the most valuable jewelry sale ever.

Records were set at the auction for pearls, emeralds, and Indian jewels, while rubies, yellow, and colorless diamonds broke per-carat records. The top price paid was $11,842,500 for the historic La Peregrina, a 203-grain (equivalent to 55 carats) pear-shaped 16th-century pearl once owned by England’s Mary Tudor.

Elizabeth Taylor resplendently wears some of her emerald and diamond pieces in the 1963 movie, "V.I.P.s," that were given to her by her fourth husband Eddie Fisher (the flower brooch she is wearing in her hair) and her fifth husband Richard Burton (the pendant earrings and brooch he gave her for their engagement). All are by Bulgari, one of her favorite designers.

Elizabeth Taylor resplendently wears some of her emerald and diamond pieces in the 1963 movie, "V.I.P.s," that were given to her by her fourth husband Eddie Fisher (the flower brooch she is wearing in her hair) and her fifth husband Richard Burton (the pendant earrings and brooch he gave her for their engagement). All are by Bulgari, one of her favorite designers.

In the 2012 documentary, Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime (which can be viewed on YouTube), author Ruth Peltason, who helped Taylor write her 2002 book, Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry, recalls seeing Taylor sitting on a bed strewn with priceless earrings and necklaces. “She liked to play with them like a child plays with dolls. Every piece meant something.”

Also in the documentary, her former publicist and friend Sally Morrison recalls trying on some of her most jaw-dropping gems. “Elizabeth would let all her friends try on her jewels. She wasn’t precious about it at all. She’d say, ‘Go on, try it,’ and she’d tell you the story behind any piece: who it was from, what it meant to her, and the good times it represented. Her whole life was in her jewelry. I think that was why so many people related to her. All women have jewelry they wouldn’t part with, though for most of us, it’s a wedding or engagement ring. She just had bigger jewels than most – and a bigger life, too.”

Here are the stories behind some of Taylor’s most legendary pieces of jewelry given to her by Todd and Burton and what they meant to her:

The circa 1880 antique diamond tiara gifted by Mike Todd, which sold for $4.2 million.

The circa 1880 antique diamond tiara gifted by Mike Todd, which sold for $4.2 million.

The Diamond Tiara

In My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor says: “When Mike gave me this tiara, he said, ‘You’re my queen, and I think you should have a tiara.’” The piece, circa 1880, is forged out of mine-cut diamonds mounted in platinum and gold.

Taylor mostly wore the tiara at various events and awards shows she and Todd attended for his film he produced, Around the World in 80 Days, including the Academy Awards in 1957, where it won Best Picture. When infamous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper asked him about the jewel in the press room after winning the Oscar, Todd answered with his signature wit. He reportedly looked Hopper in the eye and simply said, “Doesn’t every girl have one?”

The tiara sold at Christie’s in 2011 for $4,226,500 against a high estimate of $80,000.

The ruby suite gifted by Mike Todd: The necklace sold for $3.7 million, the earrings for $782,500 and the bracelet for $842,500.

The ruby suite gifted by Mike Todd: The necklace sold for $3.7 million, the earrings for $782,500 and the bracelet for $842,500.

Romantic Rubies

Mike Todd was a smitten new husband in 1957 when he gifted his wife with a suite of diamond-and-Burmese-ruby jewelry by Cartier, another one of her favorite designers. The suite included a necklace, earrings, and bracelet. He and Taylor, who was pregnant with their only child, Liza Todd, were vacationing at Cap-Ferrat’s Villa Fiorentina with Evie and Van Johnson. Taylor was swimming when Todd brought her the treasures. She squealed with delight, quickly put on the jewelry and returned to swimming. Amateur photographer Evie recorded seconds of the joyful bauble-filled moment for posterity in this clip on YouTube:

These rubies eventually became symbols of the couple’s short and intense love story and were considered among the most iconic in Taylor’s collection. The Cartier Collection bought the necklace, which features seven oval rubies with round and baguette diamonds and a ruby and diamond clasp, for $3,778,500. The earrings and bracelet were sold to a private buyer for $782,500 and $842,500.

The diamond ear pendants gifted by Mike Todd sold at Christie's for $374,500.

The diamond ear pendants gifted by Mike Todd sold at Christie's for $374,500.

Her Favorite Ear Pendants

“Life without earrings is empty!” Elizabeth Taylor once proclaimed. She had plenty in her collection, but her favorite was a pair of diamond and platinum chandeliers she spotted in a shop window when she and Todd were taking a stroll in Paris. She went in to try them on, and even though they were paste, the diamond-loving Liz wanted the jewels badly. In My Love Affair with Jewelry, she writes that her exact words were, “Mike! Oh God, oh Mike, couldn’t I please, please, please? I can’t go home without them.” Her husband obliged. “I was smitten with them and wore them whenever I could,” she said.

Not long after, when Taylor was getting dressed for an evening out in New York and put on the earrings, she thought they felt different and recalled telling Todd, “Mike, there’s something wrong with my earrings. They’re not quite the same.” He then revealed he had her beloved costume jewels transformed into the real thing. This was reportedly perfectly in keeping with the inventive ways he enjoyed giving his wife jewelry.

Following Todd’s untimely death in a plane crash in 1958, Taylor kept his memory tangibly near her by perpetually wearing the earrings. They now belong to a jewelry designer, Lorraine Schwartz, who was a close friend and shares more about them.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing the diamond heart pendant in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," 1958.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing the diamond heart pendant in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," 1958.

The Sentimental Heart Pendant

Mike Todd did not always gift his wife with grand jewelry. A less well-known piece he gave Taylor in 1958 is a small diamond heart pendant, which was her most sentimental jewel among the treasures from him. He gave her mother one, too.

Taylor had a strong attachment to the necklace because she received it shortly before Todd died in a plane crash on March 22, 1958. She wore the heart-shaped diamond to his funeral and constantly thereafter for almost two years after he died. When she had to fulfill her work commitment and begin filming Cat on A Hot Tin Roof less than a month after her husband’s death, she made the diamond heart part of her costume and delivered a knockout performance in the hard-hitting Tennessee Williams’ drama.

As Taylor famously fell in love with Todd’s best friend, singer Eddie Fisher, who was married to America’s Sweetheart Debbie Reynolds at the time, she continued to wear the heart necklace. She even had it on the day she married Fisher in 1959. When she began filming Suddenly Last Summer shortly after their wedding, she again made the heart part of her costume.

“I know how much the jewelry represented her emotional attachment to a human being,” Tim Mendelson, a trustee of the Elizabeth Taylor Trust, told The Adventurine. “If a friend of hers died she would always want to get out a piece of jewelry they had given her. Looking at or wearing the jewel was a way of keeping their memory close to her.”

Set with a cut-cornered rectangular-cut diamond, the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond Ring weighs 33.19 carats and is flanked on either side by a tapered baguette-cut diamond, mounted in platinum. This sold for $8.8 million.

Set with a cut-cornered rectangular-cut diamond, the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond Ring weighs 33.19 carats and is flanked on either side by a tapered baguette-cut diamond, mounted in platinum. This sold for $8.8 million.

The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond

This 33.19-carat dazzler of a ring, formerly known as the Krupp Diamond (named for its previous owner, Vera Krupp, second wife of the steel magnate Alfred Krupp), was known in the Taylor household as “My baby.” The proud owner liked nothing better than to gently prod others to try it on and “see all the colors of the rainbow.”

The type IIa-rated diamond (the purest and flawless grade of diamonds) has a deep emerald-style cut, sometimes referred to as an Asscher-cut. When the diamond came up for auction by the Krupp estate in 1968, Burton bought it for a reported $305,000 and presented it to Taylor on their yacht in London. She reportedly referred to it as her favorite piece of jewelry.

Taylor wearing the former Krupp diamond, as well as the chandelier ear pendants Mike Todd gave her.

Taylor wearing the former Krupp diamond, as well as the chandelier ear pendants Mike Todd gave her.

Princess Margaret once famously insulted the ring. Biographers Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger in Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, said the royal once struck up a conversation about the ring when they were attending a wedding.

The authors claim she said: “Is that the famous diamond? It’s so large! How very vulgar!”

Taylor allegedly replied: “Yes, ain’t it great?”

Margaret then asked: “Would you mind if I tried it on?”

Once the royal had slipped it on, Taylor then said: “Not so vulgar now, is it?”

The ring sold at Christie’s for $8.8 million, almost three times its appraised value, and has since been renamed the “The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond.”

Close-up view of the 69.2-carat Cartier diamond in red case, which was sold at auction for $1,050,000 in 1969 and subsequently purchased by actor Richard Burton for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Close-up view of the 69.2-carat Cartier diamond in red case, which was sold at auction for $1,050,000 in 1969 and subsequently purchased by actor Richard Burton for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

The Cartier and Taylor-Burton Diamond

The famous Cartier diamond — a flawless, pear-shaped diamond with 58 facets — ended up on Taylor’s finger after a fight she and Burton had. According to History.com, in a restaurant one night, Burton called her hands large and ugly, and she said in that case, he’d better buy her the ring she wanted so that her hands looked smaller and more attractive.

That ring she wanted was a 69.42-carat diamond, unearthed from the Premier mine of South Africa in 1966. At 1-1/2 inches long and 1-inch wide, it was described as the size of a peach pit. It was being auctioned in New York and on the day of the sale, October 23, 1969, Burton had his lawyer send a representative to bid with a ceiling price of $1 million, which he must have thought was enough, given the fact that the record price at the time was $385,000 for a diamond necklace sold in 1957.

But Burton had some serious competition for the diamond. Nine people participated in the bidding and the previous record price was shattered in minutes. At the $850,000 mark, it was down to two bidders: Al Yugler representing Burton and Robert Kenmore representing Cartier.

Yugler dropped out as directed at the $1 million mark, and Kenmore won the stone for Cartier when he put in the final bid for $1,050,000. The next day, Burton had his lawyer contact Cartier and buy the gem; it has been reported that he paid $1.5 million for it. Burton told The New York Times, “It’s just a present for Liz.” Under the agreed sale terms, the extraordinary gem was displayed at the Cartier Fifth Avenue Mansion for a week before shipped to the couple. Over 6,000 people a day lined up to see the celebrated stone.

The famed diamond on the custom-made Cartier necklace made its world television debut at the 42nd annual Academy Awards in 1970.

The famed diamond on the custom-made Cartier necklace made its world television debut at the 42nd annual Academy Awards in 1970.

It also turned out that for a woman used to big baubles, at least one can be a little too big, even for her. Taylor thought the diamond was too heavy to wear as a ring so she commissioned Cartier to make an $80,000 diamond necklace, which included a custom setting for the diamond.

An elaborate security plot was devised when the jewel was finally sent to Taylor and Burton. Three men with identical suitcases were dispatched from Cartier as decoys, with one delivering it to the couple on their yacht in Monaco, where they were visiting to attend Princess Grace’s Scorpion-themed 40th birthday party. Taylor caused a sensation when pictures of her were published wearing the diamond on the Cartier necklace. Viewers around the world also got a long look at the dazzling diamond on television when the actress famously wore it when presenting the Best Picture award at the 1970 Oscars.

Lucille Ball and her special guests, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, become involved in a "rocky" situation centering on Taylor's $1.5 million diamond ring, which seems firmly lodged on Lucy's finger, on the third season premiere of the "Here's Lucy" TV show.

Lucille Ball and her special guests, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, become involved in a "rocky" situation centering on Taylor's $1.5 million diamond ring, which seems firmly lodged on Lucy's finger, on the third season premiere of the "Here's Lucy" TV show.

In the 1970 season premiere of Lucille Ball’s sitcom, “Here’s Lucy,” the gem, mounted in the ring, was a prop for slapstick comedy when Lucy tries it on and it gets stuck on her finger. That episode became CBS’s highest-rated show on the air for the 1971-72 season, and one of the best-remembered episodes of the entire series.

Shortly after the couple divorced in 1976, Taylor sold the diamond and donated a portion of the proceeds to fund the building of a hospital in Botswana.

Taylor won these getting 30 points off of Burton in ping pong. They sold for $134,500.

Taylor won these getting 30 points off of Burton in ping pong. They sold for $134,500.

The Ping-Pong Rings

Burton did not always gift his wife with big baubles. In 1970, the two, who were super competitive, were playing a game of ping-pong at their chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland. Burton promised her that if she scored 10 points against him, he’d buy her a diamond. She scored 30. True to his word, Burton set off to buy a diamond, but since he never promised hefty carats, the cheeky Welshman got the smallest diamonds he could find and returned with what became known as “the ping-pong rings.”

The grand and world-famous La Peregrina pearl, suspended from a natural pearl, diamond, ruby and cultured pearl necklace by Cartier that Taylor helped design. This sold for $11.8 million.

The grand and world-famous La Peregrina pearl, suspended from a natural pearl, diamond, ruby and cultured pearl necklace by Cartier that Taylor helped design. This sold for $11.8 million.

The La Peregrina Pearl

Few jewels boast the excitement, glamor, and provenance of the renowned La Peregrina. The 50-carat pear-shaped pearl is believed to be one of the most symmetrical natural pearls ever discovered. Reportedly found in the Gulf of Panama in the 16th century, the La Peregrina was gifted to King Phillip II of Spain, who presented the jewel to Queen Mary of England (Mary Tudor) as a wedding gift. The Bonapartes of France have also owned it.

It was eventually purchased by Burton for Taylor in 1969 for $37,000. The gold chain the pearl dangled from was too simple for Taylor’s taste, however, so she collaborated with Cartier to create a more elaborate necklace inspired by a portrait she had seen of Mary Queen of Scots wearing the La Peregrina Pearl.

In Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime, Sotheby’s representative Ward Landrigan, who became a great friend of Taylor’s, recalled watching, in horror, when she dropped her La Peregrina pearl in a pink shag-pile carpet and it was found being nibbled on by her Lhasa Apso dog.

The BVLGARI emerald-and-diamond pieces Burton gifted to Taylor over the years: the necklace, 1962, sold for $6.1 million; the brooch, 1958, suspended from the necklace, sold for $6.5 million; the earrings, 1960, sold for $3.2 million; and the bracelet, 1963, sold for $4 million.

The BVLGARI emerald-and-diamond pieces Burton gifted to Taylor over the years: the necklace, 1962, sold for $6.1 million; the brooch, 1958, suspended from the necklace, sold for $6.5 million; the earrings, 1960, sold for $3.2 million; and the bracelet, 1963, sold for $4 million.

The Bulgari Bling

Richard Burton once famously said of his wife: “The only word she knows in Italian is Bulgari. I introduced Liz to beer and she introduced me to Bulgari.”

Taylor had a legendary love for all things Bulgari and had many tremendous pieces in her collection, including an emerald and diamond flower brooch given to her by her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher. But it was Burton who kept her sparkling in it.

For their engagement in 1958, Burton gifted her with an unconventional choice: an 18-carat emerald Bulgari brooch. Taylor pinned it on the yellow chiffon dress she wore on the day she first married Burton in 1964.

Taylor wearing the BVLGARI emerald-and-diamond brooch at her wedding to Burton in 1964.

Taylor wearing the BVLGARI emerald-and-diamond brooch at her wedding to Burton in 1964.

Taylor wearing her emerald and diamond necklace, brooch and earrings, circa 1986.

Taylor wearing her emerald and diamond necklace, brooch and earrings, circa 1986.

In her book, Taylor recalls the time the couple took a break from shooting Cleopatra in Rome in 1962 and took a stroll to Bulgari. “Richard was so romantic that he’d use any excuse to give me a piece of jewelry,” Taylor wrote in her book. “He’d give me ‘It’s a beautiful day’ presents or ‘Let’s go for a walk’ presents. Over the years I’ve come to think of these as my ‘It’s Tuesday, I love you’ jewelry.” Taylor was given a choice between two spectacular emerald necklaces. “I tried on the huge one, then the smaller one, the huge one, then the smaller one. By this time we had been joined by Bob, a dear friend and Richard’s dresser for years. Richard asked him which he preferred. Bob couldn’t decide either. I tried them on one more time and said, ‘Richard, I think I like the smaller one.’ Bob said, ‘Mr. B., you can’t hardly get girls like that no more!’” Taylor frequently attached her Bulgari emerald brooch to this necklace as a pendant.

Other serious purchases at Bulgari included a ring in 1962, a bracelet, and a pair of emerald-and-diamond ear pendants that Taylor wore at the Paris premiere of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 and to greet Queen Elizabeth in Washington in 1976; they were also part of her costume in the 1963 movie, V.I.P.s. Taylor is likely the only person who could ever make emerald-and-diamond earrings seem ubiquitous.

The complete set sold at Christie’s for a combined price of approximately $23 million.

Burton gave Taylor this ruby and diamond ring as a stocking stuffer for Christmas in 1968. This sold for $4.2 million.

Burton gave Taylor this ruby and diamond ring as a stocking stuffer for Christmas in 1968. This sold for $4.2 million.

The Stocking Stuffer

“One day I’m going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world” was the romantic promise Richard Burton once made to Taylor. “It’s my favorite stone, red for Wales.”

After four years of searching, he finally found the right gem at Van Cleef & Arpels - an 8.24-carat Puertas ruby, diamond and gold ring - and stuffed it in her Christmas stocking in 1968. In her book, she recalls the moment when she received it. “I opened the box very, very slowly. Inside it glowed with the fire of the most perfect colored stone I’d ever seen. With the most perfect cut. I’m sure I almost fainted. I screamed, which probably echoed over the mountains, and I couldn’t stop screaming. I knew I was staring at the most exquisite ruby anyone had ever seen.”

The ring was among the jewels in Christie’s auction, selling for $4,226,500. At the time, the price was a record for a ruby per carat ($512,925).

The Taj Mahal Indian diamond-and-jade pendant necklace on a ruby-and-gold chain by Cartier. This sold for $8.8 million.

The Taj Mahal Indian diamond-and-jade pendant necklace on a ruby-and-gold chain by Cartier. This sold for $8.8 million.

The Taj Mahal Diamond Pendant

For Taylor’s 40th birthday in 1972, Burton gave her an extravagant and romantic gift: a heart-shaped diamond from the 17th century, surrounded by a red stone and jade mount, and hung from a woven gold chain embellished with cabochon rubies by Cartier.

The engraving on the diamond reads: “Nur Jahan Baygume Padshah, 23 and 1037.” It means that Nur Jahan was the favored wife of Padshah and 23 refers to the year of the Shah Jahangir reign and 1037 which translates to the date 1627 A.D. The pendant was later given to the Shah’s son, who presented the pendant as a gift to his most beloved wife, Mumtaz-I-Mahal. After she died, he was so overcome with grief that he commissioned the famous Taj Mahal in her honor.

According to Getty, during pre-party drinks, Taylor burst into tears after one of her birthday guests, British writer Alan Williams, demanded to know why no Hungarians had been invited to the star-studded “Hungarian Happening” Burton had staged for her at a Budapest hotel. But receiving this pendant dried her tears fast.

Elizabeth Taylor, wearing the Taj Mahal pendant, and Richard Burton arrive at her $72,000 star-studded 40th birthday party.

Elizabeth Taylor, wearing the Taj Mahal pendant, and Richard Burton arrive at her $72,000 star-studded 40th birthday party.

The pendant and chain sold at Christie’s in 2011 for $8,818,500. Months after the sale, the buyer returned it and demanded his money back, claiming it was not from the Mughal period as advertised. Taylor’s estate filed a lawsuit against Christie’s saying the auction house breached its agreement and refused to return its share. Christie’s called the lawsuit nonsense, claiming the estate made many millions ($7.2 to be exact). In 2015, both parties agreed to settle their bitter lawsuit and work together to finalize a new sale of the gem, which has not happened yet.

The Shah Jehan heart pendant necklace Taylor designed for Avon in the 1990s, based on the one Burton gave her.

The Shah Jehan heart pendant necklace Taylor designed for Avon in the 1990s, based on the one Burton gave her.

When Taylor designed her jewelry line for Avon in the 1990s, she created a replica of this piece. It is one of the most sought-after pieces of her costume-jewelry line and features gold-colored metal with ruby red-colored glass stones. The center is a heart shape with the inscription, “Love is Everlasting” in Parsee. 

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