Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels could fetch $30 million at auction

From a set of tiny diamond rings she won at ping-pong to a huge teardrop pearl that once belonged to Mary Tudor, the jewellery collection of Elizabeth Taylor is to go under the hammer.

The storied gems given to the film star by her seven husbands and others she bought for herself with an unerring eye are expected to raise more than $30 million (£18.8 million) when they are auctioned in December, Christie’s said.

Much of the collection comprises gifts from her second husband, film producer Mike Todd who died a year into their marriage. Among the most famous are the extravagant jewels lavished upon her by Richard Burton as proof of love.

Some 269 diamonds, pearls, rubies, rings, necklaces and even a tiara will be sold, with several of the most valuable, and dazzling pieces tied to Taylor’s lengthy and complicated relationship with Burton, whom she married twice and divorced twice.

“This is without a doubt the greatest private collection of jewellery ever assembled in one place,” said Marc Porter, Christie’s Americas chairman and president.

Leading the sale will be Taylor’s iconic, 33.19-carat white diamond ring, a 1968 gift from Burton who purchased it at auction for $300,000. The trustees of Taylor’s estate have renamed it “The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond”, and it is estimated to fetch $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

Another of the standout gems is La Peregrina, one of the largest and most symmetrically perfect pear-shaped pearls in the world, which Burton purchased for Taylor in 1969 as a Valentine’s Day gift.

Named “The Wanderer” for its peregrinations over the centuries, the pearl was given to Mary I of England by King Philip II of Spain before their marriage in 1554. When Mary died four years later, the pearl was returned to Spain, which lost it when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded in 1808.

The jewel reappeared when it was sold by Napoleon III while he lived in exile in London and was bought by the Marquess of Abercorn. It remained in the family until Burton snapped it up at auction for $37,000, beating a member of the Spanish Royal family to it.

Cartier later created for Taylor a ruby and diamond necklace from which the pearl was suspended in a design inspired by the famous Velazquez portraits of Spain’s Queen Margarita and Queen Isabel wearing the pearl as a necklace. It is expected to fetch as much as $3 million.

Burton was enamoured of historical pieces, and in 1972 purchased the famous 17th-century Taj Mahal diamond pendant for Taylor’s 40th birthday. The transaction took place at John F. Kennedy International Airport because the couple didn’t have time to run into the city before catching a plane.

The heart-shaped diamond is associated with one of history’s greatest love stories. It belonged to Emperor Shah Jahangir, who had the diamond inscribed with his wife’s name “Nur Jahan.” He later passed the stone on to his son, Shah Jahan, who the built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife Mumtaz, who died in childbirth.

After buying it, Burton remarked: “I would have liked to buy her the Taj Mahal but it would cost too much to transport.”

Cartier later recreated the diamond’s original silk cord as a gold rope-like necklace set with rubies and diamonds.

Among the pieces that Taylor purchased for herself was the Duchess of Windsor diamond brooch, which she got at auction for $620,000. She paid such a high price for two reasons – to remember her friend and because the proceeds were going to a cause dear to her, AIDS research. It is expected to sell for $600,000.

Not every piece is so lavish. There are “The Ping-Pong Diamonds” that Burton bought in a bet over a table tennis table. They were in Gstaad when he promised her a diamond if she could win ten points off him. She did. He dashed into town and returned with the smallest possible diamond for her. She ended up with three small rings that are estimated to fetch up to $7,000.

The stories behind them are as priceless as the gems themselves. In a 2002 memoir, My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor took readers on a personal journey of her collection, describing in her own words how she came to own each piece.

“I never, never thought of my jewelry as trophies,” she wrote. “I’m here to take care of them and to love them. When I die and they go off to auction I hope whoever buys them gives them a really good home.”