Elizabeth Taylor's Celebrated Jewelry Collection Dazzles
by Laurie brookins
Pieces from the collection during its pre-auction tour
|Taylor in jewelry given to her by third husband Mike Todd, a year after his 1958 death in a plane crash|
|The diamond tiara given to Taylor by her third husband, Mike Todd, in 1957|
|Richard Burton once famously said, “I introduced Liz to beer, and she introduced me to Bulgari"|
Perhaps recalling this event, Christie’s also organized a three-month world tour of previews earlier this fall, with stops in London, Moscow, Los Angeles, Dubai, Paris, Geneva, and Hong Kong. “Apart from the fact that we wanted to reach out to all our customers, be they in Asia or Europe or the Middle East or America, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to see what Elizabeth Taylor was all about,” Kadakia explains. “We wanted everyone to experience the magic.”
There’s an added benefit the star surely would have appreciated: A portion of the proceeds from exhibition admissions and publications are being donated to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which the actress founded in 1991.
Cataloging a Legend
Between the 80-lot Evening Sale and two Day Sale sessions on December 14, a total of 269 pieces will go up for auction. Three additional auctions December 14 through 16 will highlight fashion, accessories, fine and decorative arts, and film memorabilia from Taylor’s estate, while an online auction commencing December 3 will include smaller items, such as the actress’ considerable handbag collection; additional auctions at Christie’s London in January and February will focus on Taylor’s artwork.
“I worked on the auction of Princess Diana’s dresses, and I also did the Marilyn Monroe auction,” notes Meredith Etherington-Smith, curator of the fashion auction for Christie’s. “Elizabeth Taylor is the only other 20th-century icon I really wanted to work on, because she was a global superstar before the term was even invented.”
Etherington-Smith and her team spent weeks cataloging Taylor’s fashion collection, accessories, decorative arts, and film memorabilia in a Long Island warehouse, a comparatively unglamorous setting to organize the clothes of one of the world’s most glamorous women. “It was a whole floor, stretching almost as far as the eye could see,” Etherington-Smith says.
A Fashion-Forward Taylor
A December 14 Evening Sale, titled The Icon and Her Haute Couture, will showcase the dresses Taylor wore to her 1964 and 1975 weddings to Burton; two Irene Sharaff costumes from 1963’s Cleopatra; and the lilac suit designed for Taylor by Gianfranco Ferré when she received her damehood from Queen Elizabeth in 2000. Three daytime sale sessions on December 15 will feature a wide variety of Taylor’s fashion over the years.
What’s notable about Taylor’s fashion eye, Etherington-Smith says, is how the star’s look evolved with the changing times. “The ’60s are sort of littered with Dior haute couture, and then the ’70s hit, and she gave in to caftans in a big way,” she says. “And then she discovers Milan in the ’80s.
Soon after you see her rock-chick period, with the amazing Gianni Versace embroidered jackets. She had a terrific eye and an exceptional talent for maintaining this public persona, which is only more incredible when you consider that for more than half of the 20th century, everyone in the world knew who she was.”
Ask Etherington-Smith to name a favorite from the collection, and she doesn’t hesitate. “There’s an incredible set of matched Louis Vuitton luggage which is quite nice,” she says. “But what’s significant about the collection is that every piece features a luggage tag in lilac, each adorned with one word: mine. It’s a wonderful detail, because it reflects not only a great self-awareness, but also a great sense of humor.”
That self-awareness almost certainly extended to thoughts of what might occur during these two weeks at Christie’s. In My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor ponders the question: “Sometimes I wonder what will become of everything, because just like the Duchess of Windsor’s collection, they will all be up for auction one day,” she writes. “They will be scattered to the four corners of the world, and I hope that whoever buys each piece loves it as much as I do and takes care of it and realizes that having jewelry is a temporary gift. In truth, we ‘owners’ are just the caretakers. Nobody owns beautiful paintings. Nobody ever owns anything this beautiful. We are only the guardians.”
Of course, before imparting such wisdom, Taylor also had noted, “As I look at some of my jewels, I realize what a very lucky girl I am.” Christie’s, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, 212-636-2000
photographs by Edward Quinn (taylor with crown); Douglas Kirkland/CORBIS (opener); PR newsfoto/house of taylor jewelry/ap images (taylor in husband jewelry); rune hellstad/corbis (auction); AP photo/Calvert (burton)