The truth about Elizabeth Taylor’s massive jewelry collection

If you’ve ever fantasized about having a truly extraordinary jewelry collection, you might want to take a peek at Elizabeth Taylor’s for inspiration. The full extent of Taylor’s collection became public when it was auctioned off by Christie’s back in December 2011 (via Christie’s). The actress’ jewels ranged from massive emerald and diamond rings to intricate brooches, bracelets, and necklaces clustered with gems, which she wore both on- and off-screen (via Vanity Fair). Many of the items up for auction were expensive gifts from Richard Burton, Taylor’s fifth husband, and Mike Todd, husband number three — and they only increased in value over time (via InStyle).

Because the value of the stones were magnified by their fame, the 2011 auction made over $116 million total, more than doubling the existing record for a single collection and totaling nearly six times the auctioneer’s original estimates (via Reuters). For some sense of what that means, a single 33.19 carat diamond ring (which Burton purchased for $300,000) sold for $8.8 million, setting a per-carat record for that color diamond. Not a bad legacy for a true jewelry lover, as the actress’s son Chris Wilding affirmed at the auction: “She would be happy to know that her wish for her jewelry to be owned and enjoyed by others was fulfilled.”

The story of the Taylor-Burton Diamond

Even if you’re only slightly familiar with the story of Elizabeth Taylor’s life and love affair with jewelry, chances are you’ve heard of the famous 69.42 carat, pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond. What you might not know is the difficulty Burton went to in order to buy it for Taylor in 1969. According to The Adventurine, Burton sent a proxy to the stone’s auction with a maximum bid of $1 million (keep in mind, the most a diamond had ever sold for before this was less than $400,000). Cartier outbid that ceiling by just 50,000 and won, but a day later Burton had his lawyers contacted Cartier and bought the diamond.

Cartier displayed the gem for a week to the public before sending it off (with two other briefcases as decoys) to the couple’s private yacht in Monaco, just in time for Taylor to wear it to Princess Grace’s 40th birthday. It is estimated that Burton paid $1.5 million for what became known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond, which Taylor kept and wore until three years after the couple divorced for the second and final time in 1976. She then put it up for auction and sold it for approximately $3 million (via History.com).

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