Elizabeth Taylor and Van Cleef & Arpels

Elizabeth Taylor amassed one of the most impressive collections of jewels and amongst the Queen of Hollywood's treasure trove are 40 Van Cleef & Arpels jewels. See the pieces before they go under the hammer at Christie's in New York in December.

November 10, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor amassed one of the most impressive collections of jewels and amongst the Queen of Hollywood's treasure trove are 40 Van Cleef & Arpels jewels. See the pieces before they go under the hammer at Christie's in New York in December. Elizabeth Taylor's jewellery collection is the stuff of legend. With the keen eye of a collector, she bought and was given hundreds of jewels, all of which she wore and looked after throughout her lifetime. Her father was an art dealer and it may well be from him that she learned the importance of curating, be it her art collection, couture or jewels. One of her charm bracelets includes a jewellers' loupe and she was known to exam pieces like a pro, peering at back of each piece and examining the finest details. Not only is Elizabeth Taylor's collection valuable - it includes large diamonds and the historic La Peregrina pearl- but it is also diverse and eclectic. But perhaps almost as important, it was also very much in the public eye. She wore her jewels on the red carpet, in the swimming pool and in her films making them even more aspirational and loaded with associations. The most intriguing are those given to her by Richard Burton, each ring or necklace a chapter in their tumultuous romance. Unlike the  stars of today who borrow diamond dazzlers for the red carpet , Elizabeth Taylor owned all her jewels which means we are unlikely to see anything like this come out of Hollywood  again. And I wonder if whoever buys the 33 carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond ring will have it re-polished to take out the knocks and scratches acquired over a lifetime of wear. But now onto Van Cleef & Arpels, one of the most glamorous names in the firmament of high jewellery.  Elizabeth Taylor's collection includes pieces received from Michael Jackson and Ron Perelman as well as designs she purchased herself. During their epic romance, Richard Burton provided Liz with the majority of her Van Cleef & Arpels jewels. "One day I'm going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world" was the romantic promise Richard Burton once made to Elizabeth Taylor. After four years searching for the stone, he found the Puertas Ruby - a gem with a royal provenance - at Van Cleef & Arpels. During the process of acquisition, Mr. Burton secretly wrote Pierre Arpels letters in French from The Palace Hotel near the couple's Chalet Ariel in Gstaad, Switzerland. Then, finally, for Christmas in 1968 he gave her the 8.25 carat Puertas ruby, diamond and yellow gold ring. In Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry, the actress recalled the moment when she opened the ring box. "I screamed, which probably echoed over the mountains, and I couldn't stop screaming," she wrote. "I knew I was staring at the most exquisite ruby anyone had ever seen." The other Van Cleef & Arpels pieces are described below, the text direct from Van Cleef & Arpels, who know better than anyone the intriguing stories behind these gems. Diamond and Platinum Pendant-Brooch, 1967 In 1967, Richard Burton presented Elizabeth Taylor with this gorgeous brooch featuring circular, marquise and baguette-cut diamonds set in a platinum floral motif. The convertible design could be worn as a ring and a brooch. The actress often modeled the Van Cleef & Arpels diamond pendant- brooch instead of the Taylor-Burton diamond on her pear-shape diamond necklace to avoid the security detail her insurance company required every time she wore the 69.42-carat gem. With a $1,500,000 price tag, it was one of the most expensive stones in the world when Mr. Burton bought it in 1969. At the 1974 premiere of That's Entertainment, the actress was photographed in the Van Cleef & Arpels pendant-brooch on her diamond necklace. Ms. Taylor continued to wear the pendant-brooch on the diamond necklace for many years after she sold the Taylor-Burton diamond in 1978 to benefit a hospital in Botswana. Larmes Coral, Diamond and Yellow Gold Ear Pendants, 1969 Richard Burton made headline news in 1969 when he purchased the Taylor- Burton diamond, but it was not the only jewelry gift he gave Ms. Taylor that year. Mr. Burton also bought her an elegant pear-shape coral and diamond ear pendants from Van Cleef & Arpels. At a 1983 press conference for the couple's final collaboration, a theater production of the Noel Coward play Private Lives, years after they had divorced, the actress joined her ex-husband in front of reporters wearing the pear-shape coral and diamond ear pendants. Dodecanese Coral, Amethyst, Diamond and Yellow Gold Choker, Earclips and Ring, 1970; Lamartine Coral, Amethyst, Diamond, Platinum and Yellow Gold Bracelet, 1970; Ibiza Coral, Amethyst, Diamond and Yellow Gold Maltese Cross Sautoir, 1970; Tassel Coral, Amethyst, Diamond and Yellow Gold Sautoir, 1970; Panka Coral, Amethyst, Diamond, Platinum and Yellow Gold Ear Pendants, 1971 Throughout her life, Elizabeth Taylor had witty repartee with the press. In 1995, she told an InStyle editor, "I love purple but I do tend to collect the more precious stones." Certainly she gave the journalist a good line for the story, but not quite the truth. Ms. Taylor clearly admired amethyst and coral jewels. She received seven pieces with this eye-catching gem combination from Richard Burton in 1971. Ms. Taylor attended several high-profile events in the jewels over time. In 1981, she held a press conference at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. wearing the Dodecanese earclips with Ibiza Maltese Cross pendant pinned to her jacket as a brooch. At the 1984 opening of the Rink nightclub in New York, Ms. Taylor paired her amethyst and coral Panka ear pendants with her Tassel Sautoir and posed for pictures with Andy Warhol and the modern dance choreographer Martha Graham. The paparazzi captured the glamorous vision of Ms. Taylor leaving the Carlyle Hotel in 1980 wearing her Panka ear pendants with the Lamartine bracelet. In 2011, this set was among her pieces on view at the Set in Style, Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City. Osaka Wood and Yellow Gold Pendant and Necklace, 1971 Wood and Yellow Gold Chain Bracelet, 1971 Wood and Yellow Gold Ear Pendants, 1972 Van Cleef & Arpels started incorporating exotic woods into its fine jewelry around 1916. The idea was revived in the 1970s. The innovative designs, inspired by Japanese art and the French and Spanish Créoles of New Orleans, Louisiana, captured the attention of Richard Burton who purchased three wood and yellow gold jewels for Elizabeth Taylor in 1971 and 1972. Sylvie Raulet published a drawing of a wood and gold chain bracelet in the same style as Ms. Taylor's in her book Van Cleef & Arpels (Rizzoli, 1986). Segur Onyx and Yellow Gold Necklace, 1976 Elizabeth Taylor adored long necklaces she could slip on and easily wear with any outfit. There are several extraordinary long necklaces from Van Cleef & Arpels in her collection. Of all her chain necklaces, this yellow gold and onyx design is the longest measuring 47-inches. Barquerolles Diamond and Yellow Gold Ear Pendants and necklace, 1970 Coral, Onyx, Diamond and Yellow Gold Pendant Necklace, 1971-1972 In 1972, Elizabeth Taylor had a two-day long party to celebrate her fortieth birthday in Budapest, Hungary where Richard Burton was filming Bluebird. Michael Caine, Princess Grace and Ringo Starr were a few of the guests who flew in from around the world to attend the festivities. Among the many gifts Mr. Burton gave his bride on her big birthday was a coral, onyx, diamond and yellow gold pendant necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels. The long necklace with a medallion was one of Ms. Taylor's favored jewelry silhouettes during the 1970s. Triphanes Amethyst, Kunzite, Diamond and Yellow Gold Necklace and Ear Pendants, 1973 Elizabeth Taylor's violet eyes were legendary. She frequently chose purple outfits to enhance the color. She even had her dressing room painted mauve at least once on the 1963 set of The VIPS presumably to compliment her eyes. Ms. Taylor's celebrated eyes inspired Mr. Burton to purchase the Triphanes purple necklace and ear pendants of amethyst beads, oval-shape Kunzite, diamonds and yellow gold by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1973 for a ninth anniversary present. The 191/4-inch long necklace centers on a detachable pendant with a luminous 55.70-carat Kunzite. The ear pendants and necklace appeared on Ms. Taylor consistently. In 1975, she put on the necklace for a Bob Penn portrait with Richard Burton in Israel. She modeled the necklace and earrings (without the pendant drops) and a purple blouse in 1982 for the famous lensman Francesco Scavullo. When the actress received the 1999 Academy Fellowship Award from the British Academy of Film and Television, she went to the event in the Triphanes set. Sevres Diamond and Yellow Gold Pendant and Sautoir 1971 One of Ms. Taylor's most beloved Van Cleef & Arpels gifts from Richard Burton was the stylish 1971 Sevres sautoir. The design is composed of circular and rectangular gold links ending in a large circular motif. Diamonds accent the textured gold surface of the 29-1/2 inch long necklace. The jewel was convertible and could be taken apart and worn as several bracelets. Several pictures show Ms. Taylor wearing the necklace in the 1970s. She put it on July 5, 1973, the occasion photographers captured her disembarking from a plane in Los Angeles with her adopted daughter Maria Burton about to face reporters waiting on the tarmac to ask questions about her announced separation from Mr. Burton. Over the years, Ms. Taylor continued to wear the necklace casually and formally. In 2001, when she received the Presidential Citizens Medal from Bill Clinton for raising over $200 million to benefit AIDS research, Ms. Taylor accepted the award at the White House in the Sèvres necklace. Reine Marguerite White and Yellow Diamond, Chrysoprase and Yellow Gold Necklace, Brooch and Earclips, 1990 - 1993 Shortly after Elizabeth Taylor received the news that she was the recipient of the 1993 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Academy Award for her crusade against AIDS, she went to Van Cleef & Arpels to borrow something major to match her yellow Valentino gown for the evening. The activist actress was immediately drawn to the Reine Marquerite suite composed of a necklace, earclips and brooch with pavé-set white diamond petals, pavé-set yellow diamond pistils and chrysoprase leaves. After the ceremony, she decided it was going to be her celebration gift. Ms. Taylor purchased the pieces and wore them again two months after the Oscars at her fundraiser "Elizabeth Taylor's Party Against AIDS" in Venice, Italy. Diamond and Platinum Bow Brooch, 1926 All of the Van Cleef & Arpels jewels in Elizabeth Taylor's collection were bought in the period they were made, except this exceptional Art Deco diamond bow brooch. It was manufactured in the firm's Parisian workshops in 1926 at the height of the Art Deco era. The circular bow design features pavé-set diamonds with articulated old- European and baguette-cut diamond fringe mounted in platinum. In My Love Affair with Jewelry, Ms. Taylor said, when she saw it at the Boutique in Paris, she felt it "fit right in" with her collection. The beautiful design was among the pieces Elizabeth Taylor loaned to the 2011 Set in Style, Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City.

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