Liz rocks! Diamonds really were Elizabeth Taylor's best friend, as a new documentary on her passion for jewellery reveals
23:25 GMT, 13 April 2012
Wow. What sort of ‘bling’ status do you need to possess to have the likes of Joan Collins and Liza Minnelli openly acknowledging your star shone brighter than most
The two screen divas – each famed for their own diamond-encrusted lives – are among the contributors to a new documentary about Elizabeth Taylor, who died last year.
And the fact both come across as ladies-in-waiting – bowing to the undisputed Queen of Hollywood – probably says all you need to know about how highly Taylor was regarded.
Bling factor: Taylor wearing Bulgari emeralds from husband Richard Burton
‘It’s like being the queen of any country, I guess,’ says Minnelli. ‘You show up looking good.' Joan Collins tells of the moment a real royal – Princess Margaret – dared to tell Liz Taylor she thought her diamond ring was vulgar. Elizabeth convinced her to try it on, then said, with satisfaction, ‘Not so vulgar now, is it’
As soon as Taylor died, the documentary makers went into overdrive, and with eight marriages to seven husbands, as well as three Oscars, there was never going to be a shortage of material. This programme, however, chose to tell the story of her life through her other great love – jewels.
For Taylor’s jewellery collection, which included some of the rarest and most lusted-after pieces in the world, was second to none. Her most famous gems were auctioned off last year, raising a record-breaking 75 million. But the story of what they meant to her is a remarkably intimate one. One contributor, author Ruth Peltason, who helped her write a book about her jewels, recalls Taylor sitting on a bed strewn with priceless earrings and necklaces.
An antique diamond tiara, a gift from her third husband Mike Todd, which she wore to the 1957 Oscars
Rare gems: La Peregrina, early 16th century
Pearl, Ruby and Diamond Necklace, designed by Elizabeth Taylor, with Al
Durante of Cartier, left, The Taj Mahal Diamond Circa 1627- 28 Gold and
Ruby Chain, a gift from Richard Burton, for Elizabeth Taylor's 40th
Hollywood bling: Taylor's, 33.19-carat diamond ring
‘She liked to play with them, like a child plays with dolls. Every piece meant something.’
Another contributor, Sotheby’s representative Ward Landrigan who became a great friend of Ms Taylor’s, recalled watching, in horror, when she dropped her La Peregrina pearl – the most famous pearl in the world – in a pink shag-pile carpet. It was eventually found, being nibbled on by her Lhasa Apso dog.
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 jewellery. I think that was why so many people related to her. All women have jewellery 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.’
The programme reveals her almost casual relationship with jewels most people would only take out of a safe for special occasions. ‘She didn’t save anything for best,’ laughs Sally. ‘She’d wear the most expensive stuff all the time. You’d visit her at home and she’d be just chilling out in a kaftan, adorned with all these jewels. She even wore them in bed.’
It was Ward Landrigan who was summoned to the chalet in Switzerland where Taylor and Richard Burton were staying in 1969. In charge of the auction of what was then the largest diamond ever to be put on the market, he was informed the actress would like to see it. So it – and he – made the journey to Gstaad. His abiding memory of her on that day was that ‘she wanted to play with it’.
Her heart was duly lost to this diamond but, disastrously, she was outbid at the auction by the famous jewellery house Cartier. Yet even then the story was not over. Burton and Taylor promptly got in touch with Cartier and hatched a plan to buy the diamond directly from them, at a minimal profit for Cartier. In return, the diamond – henceforth to be known as the Taylor/Burton diamond – would go on display before being finally welcomed into Taylor’s jewellery box.
You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder,
and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night, but they’re sure fun when the
And how crowded that box must have been. Burton once quipped the only word of Italian Taylor knew was Bulgari – the famous jewellery house. ‘I introduced Elizabeth to beer; she introduced me to Bulgari,’ he added. In 1962 their union was cemented after trips to the Bulgari store in Rome while filming Cleopatra. The jewels she left Rome with, which became known as the Emerald Suite, sold for 6 million in last year’s auction.
Landrigan says her real love affair with precious jewels began when she was married to her third husband, film producer Mike Todd, a man with the wallet to indulge her. It was Todd who bought her the famous tiara she wore to the Oscar ceremony in 1957. Her friend, jewellery designer Lorraine Schwartz, says Taylor didn’t even need such an occasion to wear the piece. ‘She wore it all the time. How many women can walk around in a tiara and not look ridiculous. No one ever wore tiaras then – certainly not in America.’ That tiara eventually made over 2 million in the auction.
It was Todd, too, who walked into the Cartier store in Monaco and bought her a ruby necklace, earrings and bracelet to match. She was in the pool when he presented them to her and, in the absence of a mirror, used the water to examine her reflection. She would wear them until her death, after which they sold for 2 million. And they undoubtedly had particular resonance for her given Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, just one year into their marriage, when their baby daughter was just seven months old. ‘She told me her true love was Mike Todd,’ Landrigan reveals. ‘She said, “I would have stayed married to Mike, had he lived.” She loved him the most. He also gave her some of the nicest jewellery.’
Taylor said herself that she had three great loves in her life – Mike Todd, Richard Burton, whom she married twice, and her jewels. ‘You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder, and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night, but they’re sure fun when the sun shines,’ she said. Even now that the sun has set on that particular chapter of Hollywood history, her jewels continue to dazzle, even if they are now in different hands.
Elizabeth Taylor: Auction Of A Lifetime is on Wednesday at 9pm on Channel 4.
BLING IT ON: SOME OF THE SPARKLERS THAT LIT UP LIZ TAYLOR'S LIFE
‘I shrieked with joy,’ Taylor said in Monaco after receiving these rubies (left) and Mike Todd engraved the Oscars tiara with the words ‘You are my queen’ (right)
With fifth – and sixth – husband Richard Burton, wearing the Taylor/ Burton diamond (left) and wearing the La
Peregrina pearl, which was once owned by Henry VIII ’s daughter Mary (right)