NEW YORK — The “Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” auction at Christie’s might have shattered records, but it’s the actress’ taste in fine jewelry that’s making a mark on design, and it’s starting at the mass level.
Taylor’s jewelry, clothing, art, film memorabilia and personal affects were up for auction from Dec. 3 to 17, with four days of live auction that commenced Dec. 13. “The Legendary Jewels” sale — which ran Dec. 13 and 14 and included items such as the famous 33.19-carat diamond ring once known as the Krupp diamond (but now called the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond) and the La Peregrina pearl, diamond and ruby necklace given to her by Richard Burton — raked in a total of $137.2 million. The entire event brought in $156.8 million, with 26 items selling for more than $1 million and six for more than $5 million. This was also the first time Christie’s introduced an online-only auction, conducted in tandem with the live auctions — and sales from the Web totaled more than $9.5 million.
Ward Landrigan — chairman and chief executive officer of Verdura — personally delivered Taylor the 33.19-carat, emerald-cut diamond ring that Burton purchased for her from Sotheby’s in 1968, which cost just $305,000, a record at the time.
“About 30 minutes after the sale, we got a call saying Liz Taylor bought the diamond. I’m 27 years old, she’s in London and wanted it right away. They said I was taking it to her so I just got in the plane wearing the suit that I had on and got there at 7 a.m. Richard opened the door and said, ‘Where is it?’ and he called Liz and she came running out of the bedroom. She held her hand up and said, ‘Look at my short little fat fingers.’ She was very self-effacing, she had a great sense of humor,” Landrigan told WWD of the ring that sold for $8.8 million Dec. 13 — nearly three times its projected price tag of $2.5 million to $3.5 million.
Landrigan also hand-delivered the 50-carat La Peregrina pearl, which, at the time, simply hung on a platinum chain, to Taylor the following year at Caesar’s Palace. Taylor then had it set in diamonds, rubies and more pearls by Cartier. The necklace brought in $11.8 million, the most of any piece in the auction.
“The next time I saw it, the concoction was on it,” Landrigan said, referring to the legendary pearl’s redesign under Taylor’s ownership. “It dwarfs the pearl, number one, and it’s truly hideous. I can’t believe that Cartier made it. I mean I do, but I don’t know what they were thinking.”
Landrigan — who got to know Taylor on a personal level over the years and is the first to call the actress “generous” and “amazing” — said it’s very hard to talk about taste with respect to this collection, so much so that he refers to as an “accumulation.” “It’s not a collection because the taste was not even throughout,” Landrigan explained, citing the golden diamond monkey given to Taylor by Michael Jackson as evidence. He admits that Mike Todd had good taste and Burton had “some success.”
He hopes designers going forward don’t use these pieces as a guide for style and taste, calling Taylor’s baubles “very commercial.”
“It’s not jewelry, that’s gemology. The stones were huge and Liz liked big stones — it wasn’t about taste. I knew her, so I feel comfortable saying it. If you looked like Elizabeth Taylor you could get away with anything. And on her it looked good,” Landrigan said.
The appeal of Taylor’s jewels have trickled down to the masses by way of former “Real Housewife of New York” Jill Zarin’s upcoming costume jewelry line through a licensing deal with Glitterrings. Targeted to launch for the fall 2012 season with an opening price point of $20, Zarin said she attended the auction Wednesday evening for the sole purpose of developing this line.
Zarin, who wouldn’t reveal how many pieces she purchased from the auction, did say that Taylor had “the most beautiful eyes” and she’s doing a tribute to that in the line.
“It’s costume jewelry but a lot of it looks very real, and it’s phenomenal what you can do today with technology. You can simulate the look of real rubies, diamonds and emeralds for a fraction of the price and get the look,” Zarin said. “We can be inspired by Liz Taylor’s pieces — it just doesn’t have to cost as much. If you can afford it, great, you should be able to get it. [But] I’m going to make my stuff affordable.”
Designer Kenneth Jay Lane, who said he’s always been inspired by the actress’ “passion for lavish jewelry,” unveiled his line of Taylor-inspired jewelry, Leading Lady Chic, on QVC and qvc.com Dec. 15. Retailing from $39.50 to $199.50, the assortment of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, watches and brooches, includes $60 chandelier earrings and Lane’s own rendition of Taylor’s Krupp diamond for just $55. Eight of the designer’s pieces owned by Taylor were auctioned off last week at Christie’s.
“Elizabeth Taylor is, undeniably, one of the most adored style icons. Her legacy of glamour will continue to influence red-carpet fashion, as well as mainstream consumers,” Lane said.
Lorraine Schwartz agreed. She believes costume jewelry will embrace the look and feel of Taylor’s famous gems.
“A lot of the costume jewelry designers will go back and get inspiration or try to copy pieces from her estate — especially the colorful pieces, the corals,” Schwartz said, mourning the loss of the famous Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, of which she was outbid by just one person. “But more than anything, when I think about the whole impact of this sale, it will encourage people to have a little more fun with their jewelry. She was classic, but she also had fun jewelry and enjoyed these pieces. She glamorized it. She could wear a fun, old opera coin necklace with her Krupp diamond.”
Taylor’s Lorraine Schwartz 27.42-carat, fancy yellow diamond ring — which she bought in 2002 when she invited Schwartz to an amfAR event in Cannes, France — was purchased for $2.1 million.
The designer added that she did purchase a pair of earrings for herself at the auction — which were a gift to Taylor from Todd — and she also bought back one of her bracelets that Taylor bought for herself for her 70th birthday. She also split an antique ruby and diamond locket with a friend.
According to a spokesman from Bulgari, which bought back many of the items featured in the auction — emerald and diamond necklaces, earrings, brooches and rings among them — the event is sure to ignite a return to investing in fine jewels, especially for celebrities since “being inextricably linked with extraordinary pieces mirroring their taste and personality is also a way to enhance their visibility and to generate buzz, as happened to Elizabeth Taylor.”
The brand notes that this is a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen in decades — adding that Taylor was the “last great movie star” who both purchased and wore her own jewelry over the course of her life and even in several of her movies.