Elizabeth Taylor's Most Enduring Legacy May Surprise You

Rachael Burrow
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From Veranda

Elizabeth Taylor's most lasting legacy may be her consistent adoration—and collection—of stunning jewels, as well as her many marriages and acting resume. Born in London in 1932 to American parents who were art dealers, Taylor and the family relocated to Los Angeles after the start of World War II. She first appeared on the silver screen in the 1942 film There's One Born Every Minute at the age of 10; she became a household name at age 12 with 1944's National Velvet, which grossed over $4 million.

As much as Taylor earned fame for appearing in movies like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Butterfield 8, she was infamous for her scandalous love life. Taylor was notably quoted as once saying that in order to have a love affair, one had to get married—which she did: eight times. (And twice to Richard Burton, to be exact.) Thanks to these star-studded marriages, Taylor became the recipient of jewels worthy of royalty anywhere else, and she even penned a book on her plethora of beautiful gems and baubles.

She begin her sequences of marriages at age 17 to hotel heir Nicky Hilton. Taylor's third marriage in February 1957 was to Mike Todd, the Hollywood producer who was best known for his Academy Award–winning Best Picture film Around the World in 80 Days. Todd gifted Taylor a tiara of diamonds that she wore to the Cannes Film Festival that year. Tiaras weren't exactly en vogue at that time, but Taylor wore the diadem regardless, citing that she sported it because Todd was "her king."

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Todd also gifted Taylor with a set of ruby-and-diamond earrings and its matching necklace, designed and created by Cartier, that she is seen wearing here at the London premiere of Todd's Around the World in 80 Days. The suite, which Todd presented to Taylor while she was in the pool at Cap Ferrat, so excited her that she supposedly flung her arms around her husband's neck and pulled him into the pool with her.

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After Todd's untimely death in 1958 in a plane crash and following a marriage to Eddie Fisher, Taylor starred in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra, which pulled in almost $32 million and placed her in the vicinity of actor Richard Burton. The pair fell in love and were married in 1964 in Montreal, Canada. On their first wedding day, Taylor wore a Bvlgari emerald-and-diamond brooch Burton gifted her during their engagement. This brooch fetched over $6.5 million during the Christie's sale of Taylor's jewelry in 2011.

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Another stunning emerald-and-diamond combination from Bvlgari—Taylor would collect many pieces from the Italian house over the years—came in the form of a cascading necklace that Burton gifted his wife on their wedding day. The necklace boasts 16 Colombian emeralds, each set off by a surround of pear-shaped and brilliant-cut diamonds, and eventually Taylor added her emerald brooch to the necklace as a pendant.

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In 1969, a 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond went up for auction in New York City. It was rumored that both Richard Burton and Aristotle Onassis both had their eyes on the stone for their respective significant others, but in the end, Cartier won out with a bid of $1,050,000, just $50,000 over Burton's ceiling price. Burton immediately went to Cartier after the sale and purchased the diamond for Taylor, which was eventually set in a ring and a necklace. The famous stone became known as the Taylor-Burton diamond.

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Burton obviously used any occasion to shower Taylor with jewels—she was known to have said that he would "...give me 'It's a beautiful day' presents or 'Let's go for a walk' presents." On Taylor's 40th birthday, Burton used that special occasion to present Taylor with a Bvlgari sapphire-and-diamond sautoir necklace.

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The iconic personal jewelry collection of Elizabeth Taylor is the stuff of legend and has captured the imagination of the American public for the last decade. In 2011, the sale of Taylor's jewelry collection through Christie's garnered almost $10 million.


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