Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels: an insider’s anecdotes

It was a sad moment when I heard the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death. There is of course much speculation about where her jewels will end up and rumours of an auction at Christie's. All this is guessing so I decided to contact one of her close associates who tells us more about the enduring link between Elizabeth and her jewels and what might become of them.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing Bulgari jewels. En tremblant brooch with diamonds and emeralds, an emeralds parure (gift of Richard Burton). Image courtesy of Bulgari. Credit, Getty Images.

It was a sad moment when I heard the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death. There is of course much speculation about where her jewels will end up and rumours of an auction at Christie's. All this is guessing so I decided to contact one of her close associates who tells us more about the enduring link between Elizabeth and her jewels and what might become of them. I have been in touch with Joseph Panetta, Elizabeth's Director of Public Relations who handled her fragrance launches and AIDS work from 1993 to 1995. "At home Elizabeth Taylor's jewels were kept in a safe," says Panetta in his correspondence with me.  "She would wear them around the house - not the chandelier earrings and such, but the smaller pieces.  When she travelled, she took them with her - usually in a Vuitton bag held by Moshe Alon her former Mossad security agent and personal security detail.  Moshe Alon was former Mossad and after he "retired" he ran a company in LA for security for celebrities.  He and his colleague Yigal Ram both were on point for Elizabeth when she traveled and did her personal appearances.  He ran security for individuals and for big events. " Panetta gives us great insight into how Elizabeth Taylor was at home: "Around the house she was not the glamour puss you see in images - she was an ordinary woman.  Well as ordinary as you can be with millions of dollars, a massive movie career, legions of fans around the world - yet you don't know how to drive and cannot possibly go grocery shopping due to the inevitable crowds that would follow." And as for the whereabouts of the Taylor-Burton diamond, a topic of much discussion in the industry, Panetta remarks: "During her divorce from Senator John Warner in the late 70's/early 80's Elizabeth was forced to sell the Taylor Burton diamond to buy Nancy Sinatra's house (where she lived until she died last week).  She bought it sight-unseen and regretted it - the house needed some major work when she arrived there. I believe it has been documented that the Taylor Burton diamond was cut up!" "She has a marvelous story about that jewel - it could be worn as a ring or as a brooch.  She was at a dinner in London attended by Princess Margaret shortly after receiving it.  Every woman at the table was trying it on and ooo'ing and ahhh'ing.  Princess Margaret looked at it and proclaimed it "vulgar."  Elizabeth replied, "you know, you're right.  It is vulgar.  Would you like to try it on?"  While admiring the stone on her finger, Elizabeth leaned over to the Princess and whispered in her ear, "It's not so vulgar now, is it?" As for her other jewels, Panetta says: "She still has the Krupp diamond (the one that looks like an ice-cube) that was the first jewel given to her by Richard Burton in 1968. One of her FAVOURITE pieces is a small diamond ring that she often wore on her pinky - set in white gold (I think).  She called it the Ping Pong diamond because she bet Richard that she could beat him at table tennis and that if she did, he had to buy her a piece of jewelry.  She did win (much to his chagrin) and he bought her this piece.  While small, the story behind it and her win filled her with delight even years later. Another of her axioms was that a fine piece of jewelry should look as pretty from the back as it does from the front - e.g., you can tell it is a quality piece if the back is artwork all by itself. She never brought nor wore fakes - only the real thing." Here is another lovely detail: "One of the last pieces of jewelry she got as a gift was a yellow-gold and emerald lattice-work Cartier necklace from Michael Jackson in 1993 shortly before she was to receive the Jean Hersholtz Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (she for her work with AIDS and Paul Newman for his work with Newman's Own which donates its profits to alcoholism-related charities and kids camps).  This informed her choice of what to wear to receive the honor - she selected a beautiful pale yellow Valentino gown into which she had all the foundation work sewn so she would not have to worry about bras, panties and support stuff.  She looked radiant." Panetta tells us about Elizabeth Taylor's charity work: "We went around the country and the world doing personal appearances at retail for her fragrances.  At each stop, she would visit an AIDS Hospice - completely un-announced (no media, no cameras, nothing).  In the early 90's these were end-care facilities where people were quite sick.  She would walk in and sit with them, read to them, sign anything given to her, talk with them, sit on their beds - and the reaction was beyond anything you can imagine.  We would get letters after from the Hospice facilities telling us that after her visit the patients required less pain medication due to the extended euphoria caused by the arrival of one 5'2" woman with violet eyes who cared about nothing other than THEM for those couple for hours." Now as to what will happen next, this is Panetta's take on the situation:"If it isn't stipulated in her will, then some enterprising person will know that she would want her jewels to be auctioned off to benefit charity.  Almost as (or possible more) valuable is her art collection: Picassos and the like all hanging in her Bel Air home. I also believe that they will auction off her gowns - they have been stored quite well and she has so many from over the years (in various sizes!). It would be a shame to break up that collection - but I suppose it will happen.  The dresses and artwork can go where they will - museums, private owners, but her jewelry is something that fairy tales are made of." As for her personality, Panetta remarks; "She was a completely capricious woman whose entire life had been lived in a fish-bowl-on view of everyone.  I have not read a word about her since the announcement of her passing that is not true.  She did have a bawdy sense of humor.  She was funny and loved to laugh." So ends Joseph Panetta's delighful insight into Elizabeth Taylor's life of jewels.  From the famous Taylor-Burton diamond to La Peregrina pearl, Elizabeth Taylor wore fabulous jewels like no one else. And even more romantic is the fact that many of them were gifts from men who loved her, including Richard Burton, who married not just once, but twice. So what will happen to this rich store of jewels that are loaded with carats as well as great stories? I will keep you posted.

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