Elizabeth Taylor's watches: auction results
Christie's sale of Elizabeth Taylor's estate did not disappoint.
Dubbed as the 'sale of the century' all eyes were on New York on
the 13 & 14th December as the hammer came down on
some 400 lots of couture, art, jewels and 14 watches.
The prices achieved for the jewels and watches were spectacular,
proving that provenance, or a story to tell, is what really sells.
Most amazing of all is the records that the sale broke and in
particular the highest price per carat paid for a white diamond at
auction. The Liz Taylor effect seems to add two or even three zeros
to the value of one of her baubles. Take the rather uninteresting
necklace of gold opera passes. Valued at $2000 pre-sale, it sold
for over $300,000.
But what about the watches? While 14 timekeepers might seem like
anembaras de richessesfor anyone else, for Elizabeth Taylor, or ET
as she is now known amongst the auction set, this seems to be a
modest amount. But is there a chance that these watches will be a
game changer for bejewelled timepieces in the future?
"I could say that the impact of the auction could elevate the
appeal of certain styles," says Tom Burstein Senior Vice President
and Senior Jewellery Specialist of Christies, New York told me
prior to the sale. "The amount of publicity of the results of the
sale and the pictures of her wearing the jewels makes them very
aspirational so all of this elevates the price of all the pieces
and I think it will have a lasting effect. I can't say for which
ones but a lot of these designs will enjoy a resurgence or we will
begin to recognise them again particularly when we see how she wore
them. It is hard to put a value on the pieces, but the
auction could definitely give a certain style of watch the final
push to be considered fashionable again."
As for the styles of the watches, like her jewels they are an
eclectic selection. "The watches represented here are jewels that
tell time. They are meant to be worn as pieces of jewellery," says
Burstein. "The fact they the tell the time is an additional
functionality, for example on the Bulgari Serpent watch the dial is
concealed by the diamonds on the snake's head and the dial of the
Vacheron Constantin is all large diamonds."
The highlight of the watches is the Bulgari Serpenti from 1961
valued at a conservative $12,000-15,000. "This the normal range for
this piece at auction," explains Bernstein. "Because of its
provenance we are more likely to find out the real value in final
price but it is priced as a standard Serpenti of its era." The
watch in fact sold for $974,500, almost 65 times its presale
estimate. I think Christie's were being somewhat coy here.
Historian Amanda Triossi, who is an external consultant to
Bulgari and curated the Bulgari retrospective that featured a loan
of 16 of Taylor's jewels, tells us more about the 1961 Serpenti:
"Records are quite scarce, but the Serpenti was one of the first
examples of a Bulgari snake bracelet. We don't know who gave it to
her. It could have been her husband Eddie Fisher or Richard Burton.
And she had to means to buy it for herself, so who knows? You see
the watch in the stills of Cleopatra that she was filming at the
time. She refers to the fact of going to 'that nice little shop'
Bulgari was an asset to working in Cinecittà."
Does Triossi think that the sale will impact future auction
prices? "No, I wouldn't think so," is her verdict. "I would presume
this sale is in same category as the Duchess of Windsor's 1987
auction at Sotheby's in Geneva. The hype that goes with the
celebrity factor is limited to that sale. A similar piece in an
everyday sale with no provenance is not impacted by this."
The entirely diamond-set Vacheron Constantine Lord Kalla given
to her by Michael Jackson in 1989 is valued between $300,000 -
500,000 and chosen on the basis that it was something that
Elizabeth would have liked. It sold for $362,500, a disappointing
result compared to the other spectacular prices.
A Piaget cuff watch with a nephrite green dial was designed by
Jean-Claude Gueit who was behind a trend for large, audacious
designs in the late 1960's and 70's that appealed to the newly
landed jet-set. "I picture Elizabeth Taylor in Monaco or sailing in
the Med wearing this bracelet watch with a nephrite dial," says
Bernstein. "She got it in the late 1960's but we are not sure from
whom it was acquired. I can see her wearing it during her kaftan
phase." The estimate for this watch is a conservative $2,000-3,000.
It sold for $80,500, some 26 times its initial valuation. Another
Piaget is a more demure gold chain watch also valued between
$2,000-3,000 that achieved a handsome $56,250.
As for speculation on the final price of the star of the
watches, the 1961 Bulgari Serpenti, Bernstein said prior to the
sale: "With such a famous sale for such a famous person, it becomes
a market decision. There have been many variations of this iconic
watch and it has always been popular though a version with a
diamond head and tail is not so frequent." Nor would I imagine is
one that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. And it seems that those
bidders knew this only too well, because there will never, ever be
another one like it. And that is what drives prices sky high.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF CHRISTIES IMAGES LTD