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by on December 14, 2011

Leave it to Elizabeth Taylor to go out with a bang worthy of a movie star. The auction of Taylor’s — “impressive” seems to be a gross understatement at this point — epic jewelry collection was expected to raise $30 million, but by the time the last bid was placed, the 80 lots fetched a staggering $115,932,000, drop-kicking the record for a private collection previously established by the Duchess of Windsor‘s $50,281,887 auction in 1987. 

Elizabeth Taylor Jewelry Auction Sets World Record, Selling for Over $115 Million

Nearly every item sold for astronomically more than it was estimated as bidders at Christies battled phone-in buyers from around the world. Throughout the course of the night, six other world records were broken, including the price paid for a pearl jewel and an Indian jewel as well as the per carat price for a colorless diamond and a ruby.

That Indian jewel, the Taj Mahal jewel – a diamond and ruby pendant with a gold Cartier chain — sold for $8,818,500, 20 times its estimated worth. Given as a gift on her 40th birthday in 1972 by Richard Burton, the heart-shaped diamond was originally a gift from the 17th century emperor Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. When she died, the emperor constructed the Taj Mahal to serve as his beloved’s final resting place.

Estimated at $2.5 to $3.5 million, but going for the same $8,818,500 was the famed Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, another gift from Burton. At 33.19 carats, that bauble isn’t so much a piece of jewelry as a planet harnessed onto a ring. Taylor wore it nearly every day and encouraged others to try it on so they could “see all the colors of the rainbow.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Liz Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor were good friends. Both had an appetite for precious stones and whenever the Burtons were in Paris they would pay a visit the duke and duchess. All the while, Taylor admired the Duchess’s Prince of Wales Brooch, three feathers made of diamonds and bearing the royal insignia. When that item came to auction in 1987, Taylor, bidding for the first time at an auction, snatched up the brooch, which in turn was sold at the star’s auction for $1,314,500.

The biggest lot of the night came in the form of La Peregrina, a 16th century pearl on a pearl, diamond and ruby mounting courtesy of Cartier. History has it that the pearl was found by a slave in the Gulf of Panama and was subsequently turned over to the Spanish royal family — Phillip II gave it as a gift to his wife, Mary I of England — where it remained for several hundred years. Burton bought La Peregrina for Taylor as a Valentine’s Day present, but on account of its weight, it often fell out of its setting. At one point, Taylor lost it in their suite in Las Vegas only to find it in the least likeliest place: “I just casually opened the puppy’s mouth and inside his mouth was the most perfect pearl in the world. It was—thank God—not scratched.”

Thank god indeed. La Peregrina, estimated at $2 to $3 million, sold for $11,842,500. Here, we always thought it was her white diamonds that always brought her luck, but turns out Dame Liz’s rubies and pearls had a charm all their own. [Telegraph, Forbes, Vanity Fair]

The Taj Mahal, $8.8 million


Contributed by Lester Brathwaite

I was center square from 1969 to 1978, during which I perfected the art of the zing as well as a crippling cocaine addiction. Bea Arthur was responsible for both. @LesFabian lester dot brathwaite at gmail

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