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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Bought What at the Elizabeth Taylor Auction and Why

 I’ve never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I’m here to take care of them and to love them – Elizabeth Taylor

After viewing one of the most complete and magnificent private collections of jewelry, art, memorabilia, accessories and other articles ever amassed by a single person during The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor exhibition at Christie’s New York, I wrote the following:

This collection represents a life well spent. Christie’s presentation of the exhibit makes it seem as if her life’s work was complete.

It’s almost a shame that these items will soon be separated.

However, after attending the two days of the fine jewelry sales (part of the four-day Elizabeth Taylor auction at Christie’s New York along with an “online only” component), my mind has changed.

I met friends of Taylor and those who never knew her. I met people who purchased the product because of their ties to Taylor, because of their fascination with a particular piece, or to use what they purchased in their business. It was auction that attracted some of the world’s wealthiest people, celebrities, top professionals in the jewelry and gems industries, and those of modest means.

Bidders prepare for the opening night auction to begin. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The jewelry and other items amassed will be used in all sorts of ways. The important part is that it appears that the jewelry will be used and that’s the way Taylor, it seems, would have wanted it. After all, this is a woman who wore a 33-carat diamond ring almost every day and who was filmed wearing a priceless ruby jewelry collection by the pool. Taylor didn’t put her baubles away for special occasion, she wore them. And her collection showed an appreciation of priceless pieces along with far less expensive items because she either admired the work or they had personal meaning.

Photo credit: Christie's
Jewelry designer to the stars Lorraine Schwartz bought back the fringe diamond bracelet that Taylor bought from her for her 70th birthday.

“I was wearing it for her party at the Bel-Air Hotel, and she kept calling me over to look at it and to try it on,” Schwartz wrote on her facebook page. “Finally, the next morning she called me and said “‘I know who’s buying that bracelet for my birthday … I’m buying it for my birthday!’”

Photo credit: Christie's
Schwartz also bought a pair of earrings that Taylor’s third husband, Michael Todd, created just for her.

“I could feel Elizabeth nudging me telling me to buy them,” Schwartz said on the auction floor during the second day. “That’s what she used to do. She used to say, ‘go ahead buy it.’ She’d be kicking me under the table (saying), ‘Go ahead. You know you want it.’”

Photo credit: Christie's
Schwartz was very busy for the two days. In addition to what she purchased she lost a bid for one of her pieces and purchased a lot of three of her own bangles for Kim Kardashian, who paid $64,900, well above the high $8,000 estimate. “If you have a piece of jade, the energy goes into the piece and you absorb the energy,” Kardashian said by phone. “So I can feel Elizabeth in the piece.”

Photo credit: Christie's
Companies of course got into the act for the larger pieces. The 33.19-carat Elizabeth Taylor Diamond (also known as the Taylor-Burton diamond and formerly called as the Krupp diamond), a gift from Richard Burton, was reportedly bought by South Korean businessman Daniel Pang for $8.8 million. He was bidding on behalf of E-land World, a South Korean concern. The company plans to exhibit the diamond ring at “E World,” an amusement park in Daegu, according to reports.

Photo credit: Christie's
Bulgari, the Italian luxury jewelry house, bought back $20 million worth of jewels, including a 52.72-carat sapphire-and-diamond sautoir for $5.9 million and an emerald-and-diamond necklace for $6.1 million, according to the New York Post.

Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco
Then there’s the paper jewelry. The gag gift from Malcolm Forbes to Taylor has garnered a great deal of media attention—much of it from me. The suite of paper jewelry had a high estimate of $300. It sold on the second day for $6,875. It was purchased by Jenny and John Caro, owners of Jewelry By Design, an independent jewelry store in Woodbridge, Va.

The couple came to the auction with a $50,000 line of credit and in a few minutes it was obvious they were being priced out of buying any real jewelry. So when the paper jewelry came up on the second day, they went all out to win the lot. The couple is using the paper jewelry along with two jewelry pieces they purchased on the online only auction to create an Elizabeth Taylor display for their customers. The jewelry was chosen because they had pictures of Taylor wearing the pieces in books that will be used in the display.

“We’re a good example of a business doing things, being different and taking risks to help our business grow,” Jenny said in a phone interview.

“You couldn’t go by the intrinsic value of jewels, because the truth is everything was selling so high that what you bought you couldn’t turn around,” she added. “The South Korean who bought the Burton diamond bought it for a business reason. What is $8.8 million when it comes to advertising worldwide? What’s $6,800 when it comes to local advertising?”

Using the Forbes gift as inspiration, Christie’s created its own full-color paper jewelry book with recreations of 15 of Taylor’s most iconic jewels. It ran as a limited edition of 5,000 and was available for purchase in person at Christie’s headquarters during the New York exhibition, which was held December 3 -12. It was sold for $25 each, $5 of which went to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Los Angeles jewelry designer Sandra Müller had her own unique story. She first met Taylor as a child while living in Europe and credited the actress with inspiring her to build a life in the jewelry field. Taylor was a friend of her parents. As an adult working and living in Los Angeles, she said she would visit Taylor’s house often as a friend and to show her work. In 2001, Taylor bought three of her pieces.

Müller was already planning to go to the auction to bid for a client. While looking through the auction catalog, she discovered that those pieces were being sold as part of the fashion and accessories auction, held on the third day. Her pieces didn’t include her as the creator. She contacted Christie’s and the auction rectified the error.

The high estimate for the jewels was $300. Müller e-mailed me to let me know that her pieces sold for $15,000. With commission the total was actually $18,750.

“The 18k gold value alone would be about 10,000.00 if melted,” she added. “I think it was one of the few good deals in auction.”

I asked her how it felt to sit in the auction room and watch her pieces being sold at the historic event. Her reply was brief.