What was Elizabeth Taylor? An actress. A beauty. A well-known love story littered with diamonds. A force of nature that blew people over around her.
Has anyone ever been so closely associated with diamonds and jewellery?
Her husband, Richard Burton, bought her not one, but two of the biggest diamonds in the world and such was her influence, that the next day they renamed the Cartier Diamond, the ‘Taylor-Burton Diamond’. Her top-selling perfume was named ‘White Diamonds’ and she demanded sparkling tributes from every film set she worked on. Brilliant, captivating and elemental, she must have seen the similarities between herself and the jewels.
Taylor’s appetite for the finer things in life reportedly started at age 11 – on the last day of shooting the iconic National Velvet, MGM gave her a horse. You can image Taylor as a young child staring up at the creature and thinking, “This is nice…but how shall I wear it to a ball?”
As Elizabeth Taylor grew into a young woman, men flocked around her and showered her with gifts as if her blooming beauty drove them to empty their bank accounts.
“Jewellery was almost like foreplay for her,” her jeweller at Bulgari said. After receiving a Bulgari tiara from third husband Mike Todd as she was getting ready for a party, Taylor is reported to have said, “Well I had to thank him. Needless to say, we were late for the party.”
For Elizabeth Taylor, the link between jewellery, sex and fame was always apparent. She didn’t only desire jewels that were extraordinarily expensive – she wanted ones with infamy too. By the time she had moved on to husband Richard Burton and the Pope had accused them of “erotic vagrancy” – her diamonds had take on an undeniably lascivious nature.
Burton gave her the ‘La Peregrina’ pearl – 500 years old, found by a slave in Panama and worn by Spanish and English royalty. Previously worn over heavy velvets and furs, Taylor wore it in Monaco with a clinging silk dress cut right down to there.
“She wanted it [to hang] in a very special place on her body,” Al Durante of Cartier explained.
As she was with herself, so she was with her jewellery – carefree and maybe even careless, believing it was an eternal resource that would never stop giving. She took it out with her everywhere, into the spotlight and into the ocean with joie de vivre and reckless abandon.
“For fun she’d wear something in the pool,” Liza Minnelli is reported to have said. That ‘something’ was usually unfathomably expensive and glinting in the sunlight. You can imagine the gorgeous Taylor casually sipping on a cocktail in the pool with rubies and diamonds at her ears, fingers and throat.
After Richard Burton gave her the now infamous ‘Taylor-Burton’ diamond, they went to a men’s club with a bodyguard from Christies. Elizabeth is reported to have sat in a throne-chair in the middle of the room like a queen and let every woman in the room try it on to squeals of delight.
Drinking with Princess Margaret, Elizabeth saw the princess eyeing the ring.
“That’s so vulgar,” the Princess commented.
“Do you want to try it on?” Taylor asked.
Princess Margaret slipped it on her finger.
“Not so vulgar now, is it?” Taylor cooed triumphantly.
Margaret’s sister, Queen Elizabeth is probably the only woman in the world with a jewellery collection to rival that of Elizabeth Taylor’s. Unlike Taylor, hers are vaulted up in the Tower of London, cold and unworn, save on a grand occasions.
Elizabeth Taylor meanwhile took her diamonds out to lunch, royal parties and into the sun on holiday. Her dog (it is rumoured) once even ate ‘La Peregrina’ and then threw it back up.
This is surely what made her and her diamonds so enthralling and glorious – her collection came to life in her shenanigans and she proved that she was the best jewellery case in the world.